Reality Check

An important topic came up in this weekend’s Sunday morning conversation.  “Your generation needs a reality check.  Kids believe in playing games all day.” The topic was idols and the generation’s dependency on them.

Let me quote Isaiah 44:9-10, 15-17, and 19, an explanation of what God thinks of idols: “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless.  Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?…It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill.  He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down and says, ‘Save me; you are my god.’ …No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” (NIV)

Isaiah tells us that the items themselves are worthless.  We needn’t defend them against harsh words.  They aren’t sin. But at the same time, they can lead to sin.   Anything that you love unconditionally which gets in the way of your service for God is considered an idol.  If you love something too much to set aside when God calls, you should check your priorities.  That’s an idol: not the object itself, but your level of respect for it.

Anything can be idolized.  Do you love something that’s important to you? Ask God in humble prayer if its ok to feel your heart’s involvement.  Promise your loyalty to Him.  Check your life.  What’s important to you?  Do you love video/computer games, politically pushed values, or hyped movies? Youtube? Is personal nit-picks, team loyalty, or lucrative money-spending of high caliber in your life? Do you consider PhDs, pledges from trendy celebrities and TV publicity, or searches on the internet as a reliable source of information?  Listen for God’s answer: does any of this get in the way of God’s purpose for you?

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2018 Begins with the Flu

It’s the beginning of a new year!  My wishes and prayers are that all of you have a blessed 2018.

The first Sunday of the year should be encouraging and bright with hope, but this year many people are suffering from the flu; some cases are even severe and life threatening.  Hospitals are having to turn people away, or set up tents because there are so many people who have caught the flu.

Let’s pray for all the people who are at home or in the hospital suffering from symptoms, and pray for the serious cases to be healed.

Also pray for Lacy, our father, and our little brother Jake, who’s come down with the flu; and for my health and Mom’s, so that we may stay free from the illness, and also that we stay strong enough to tend to the others as they get better.

I pray that God grant you with wisdom, peace, and love in the new year, and that He shows you His amazing mercy and power as you live each new day.

Erna Lee’s Wisdom

It is close to the day the world is full of yuletide and cheer, when all the stockings get stuffed and Santa’s sleigh bells are near, but instead of breaking into full-length poem, I want to give everyone a message of peace that I read from Hebrews. First, let me tell you about an experience I had with a church whose members were mostly anti-Christmas:

There was a church I went to years ago, 12 years to be exact, named Nolanville. The majority of members there were 70 or over, sometimes into their 80’s, and some visitors left thinking the church too strict or too rule-based, but to the open-hearted it felt like a love gathering; you really can find love in unexpected places.

At Nolanville, every Sunday, I would be greeted with a “Good morning!” smile and hugs from various members, friendly eye contact from the one peer of mine (besides Kat), and compliments about a job well done with the church bulletin, which we wrote for about a year. Then there was the goodbye after service: everyone gathered at the door and lined up for hugs and warm fellowship, and you literally could see the entire church there at the door talking to each other, no more than 40 Christians. The laughter and conversation would carry on for 15-20 minutes before we’d, one by one, separate to our cars.

The warmth of the handshakes, the happy faces, and the love: I often miss. I think back to the people frequently, understanding that many of those members may not even be on this earth today.

Most of the members who went to Nolanville didn’t celebrate Christmas, despite their love. They held the opinion, “You got to love Jesus all year around and never allow His spirit to be felt only in December. If you do, everyone will think it is the holiday that makes them feel joy and peace, and that is idolatry…” The woman who told me passionately this viewpoint, Erna Lee, was the oldest member there. She always asked me to come up real close to her, so she could whisper her words with labored breath, but her words were always full of meaning and gentle wisdom.

The idea of not celebrating Christmas may be a bit depressing if you enjoy the season, like me, and for those who find solace in the good tidings, the cards, the gifts, the tree – Nolanville could be labeled as a group of Puritans who still hold onto the 17th century belief that Christmas should be illegal, because of its pagan roots, like worshipping the tree, and having a winter festival.

Personally, I believe Christmas can be celebrated by individuals and can also not be celebrated, too, depending on their attitude. But I agree with Erna Lee that a sense of discernment is never bad and that serving Christ only at Christmas is not God’s will for our lives.

Whether you do or don’t, the message from Hebrews 4:1-13 is a reminder to us that we can and will experience God’s rest if we hold true to our faith. That place God experienced rest, on the 7th day of Creation, is the same place we and our faithful loved ones will go upon leaving this earth. It is the peace we feel when we sing Silent Night; the peace of fireside cocoa; the peace of snow as it falls to earth, making it white. Except so much more, and not reserved for December!

Read the passage (Hebrews 4:1-13) first in American Standard Version, and again in The Message:

Let us fear therefore, lest haply, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good tidings preached unto us, even as also they: but the word of hearing did not profit them, because it was not united by faith with them that heard. For we who have believed do enter into that rest; even as he hath said,

As I sware in my wrath,
They shall not enter into my rest:

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, And God rested on the seventh day from all his works; and in this place again,

They shall not enter into my rest.

Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter in because of disobedience, he again defineth a certain day, To-day, saying in David so long a time afterward (even as hath been said before),

To-day if ye shall hear his voice,
Harden not your hearts.

For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.  For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

Again in The Message:

For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God’s goal for us, we need to be careful that we’re not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we’ll experience that state of resting. But not if we don’t have faith. Remember that God said,

Exasperated, I vowed,
“They’ll never get where they’re going,
never be able to sit down and rest.”

God made that vow, even though he’d finished his part before the foundation of the world. Somewhere it’s written, “God rested the seventh day, having completed his work,” but in this other text he says, “They’ll never be able to sit down and rest.” So this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Those earlier ones never did get to the place of rest because they were disobedient. God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation:

Today, please listen,
don’t turn a deaf ear . . .

And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.

 

 

Thoughts about the Prodigal Son

I have heard the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31) a lot, but when I thought about the story a few days ago, it came differently to me now that the Bible in its fullness is “stirring in the soul” as my mom says.

For all this year, I’ve been reading the Bible everyday so I would finish it, finish the whole book, to be better equipped in teaching. Like James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly”; I used to be afraid to speak or write, because I never wanted to be judged for the wayward direction a man or woman takes, away from God’s light. My hands would shake and my heart pound if I ever had to teach others about what God’s word said. My thoughts: got to take it seriously…

So, a few days ago, I thought about the prodigal son story and unlike every other time, I thought about the two sons and father from the light of Scripture (Jesus’s era), rather than from the light of my culture, fear of judgment, or just a young person’s way of making a story relate to myself rather than the other way around – this time I put myself in the shoes of that time, in historical context. There’s probably nothing wrong with applying the Bible to modern times, but you must first understand the text as it was intended, for the people that heard it. Only then can we accurately make a modern interpretation.

If you don’t know: the prodigal son in quick review is about two sons and their father. One went to his father and said, “Give me my inheritance now, Dad. I want the money in hard cash while I’m young!” The father said ok, and the son took it and ran. He spoiled it on who knows what (materialism, wine, women), and he found himself in the worst situation. With nothing left, he became homesick and returned to his father, who took him back lovingly. …Imagine you haven’t taken a bath or had a good meal in ages and then you walk into the horizon, hometown coming in view, when suddenly your dad is running towards you with open arms. “Son, welcome home!” He throws a huge party to celebrate you back… The prodigal son’s brother, which is the antagonist, grumbled and complained. “How can HE get a party? Who was it that worked for your approval all these years and never failed once? Me! I deserve the thanks.”

The father’s response to the angry brother has been remembered for all time, and has been retold in every format, but let’s see it again:

“Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!” Luke 15:31-32 (MSG)

The message of The Prodigal Son is exactly the same take-away as the two parables also in Luke 15:

The Parable of the Lost Sheep:

“...There is more joy for that one sinner than for 99 good people who don’t need to change.” Luke 15:7 (ERV)

The Parable of the Lost Coin’s message:

“It’s a happy time for the angels of God when one sinner decides to change.” Luke 15:10 (ERV)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son’s message:

A celebration happens when God’s child returns to Him after living a wicked life.

 

Every other time I heard this story, I thought, I can relate to this story if I’m not careful. I can be that complaining brother, as a Christian, because I could become unaccepting to new converts. I actually worried, at times, that someday I would become the guy who complains, and that is how I communicated the message to those around me.

But a few days ago, I interpreted it differently. “I’ve never heard it told that way before,” Kat said when I finished telling her what I now tell you:

If you carefully read the beginning of Luke 15, you will see the Pharisees –these were members in the Jewish religion who were strict about keeping the law (legalistic to the point of judgmental) and kept many harsh regulations – are disgruntled because Jesus chose to hang around people not like them. Notice the bold words: not like them. 

The context of the Scripture reveals that the Pharisees were the original ones Jesus spoke to, when telling the parable. The Jewish leaders were known to ban outsiders, criticize sinners, and place themselves above everyone else. The Gentiles, for example, were “uncircumcised heathen”, which you can understand by reading Paul’s letter to Ephesus, who were not a church of former Jews, but rather they were Gentiles. (Gentile was the word for anyone who was not a Jew.) Specifically chapter 2, verse 11 through 13:

Never forget that once you were heathen and that you were called godless and “unclean” by the Jews. (But their hearts, too, were still unclean, even though they were going through the ceremonies and rituals of the godly, for they circumcised themselves as a sign of godliness.) Remember that in those days you were living utterly apart from Christ; you were enemies of God’s children, and he had promised you no help. You were lost, without God, without hope.

But now you belong to Christ Jesus, and though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought very near to him because of what Jesus Christ has done for you with his blood.”

 

Paul says about the Jews that their hearts were unclean because of what? Later in Ephesians 2:15 he says:

“By [Jesus’s] death he ended the angry resentment between us, caused by the Jewish laws that favored the Jews and excluded the Gentiles…”

The Jews resented outsiders (Gentiles) because they were not like them. This, in fact, was what made their hearts unclean. Their attitude and unwillingness to forgive displeased God.

Although we are capable of falling into the same trap today as Christians, there are no Gentiles and Jews: we are all one in Christ Jesus. Sure, there are Jews, atheists, and others too, but we are all equal, and that makes it different than Jesus’s timing when the Jewish nation was the light on the hill, the lighthouse for all to see God’s glory revealed; that glory was Jesus Christ, and he is all around the world now.

So when you think about the prodigal son story, remember not to replay it too far from its original context, but I don’t see anything wrong in noting the quality of the father’s open arms, and the mistake of the son’s complaints, because God’s word can speak to us today as much as it did in Jesus’s time.

Lastly, I was inspired to include Malachi 1 in our study:

Malachi 1 (TLB)

Here is the Lord’s message to Israel, given through the prophet Malachi:

“I have loved you very deeply,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? When was this?”

And the Lord replies, “I showed my love for you by loving your father, Jacob. I didn’t need to. I even rejected his very own brother, Esau, and destroyed Esau’s mountains and inheritance, to give it to the jackals of the desert. And if his descendants should say, ‘We will rebuild the ruins,’ then the Lord Almighty will say, ‘Try to if you like, but I will destroy it again,’ for their country is named ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people are called ‘Those Whom God Does Not Forgive.’”

O Israel, lift your eyes to see what God is doing all around the world; then you will say, “Truly, the Lord’s great power goes far beyond our borders!”

“A son honors his father, a servant honors his master. I am your Father and Master, yet you don’t honor me, O priests, but you despise my name.”

“Who? Us?” you say. “When did we ever despise your name?”

“When you offer polluted sacrifices on my altar.”

“Polluted sacrifices? When have we ever done a thing like that?”

“Every time you say, ‘Don’t bother bringing anything very valuable to offer to God!’ You tell the people, ‘Lame animals are all right to offer on the altar of the Lord—yes, even the sick and the blind ones.’ And you claim this isn’t evil? Try it on your governor sometime—give him gifts like that—and see how pleased he is!

“‘God have mercy on us,’ you recite; ‘God be gracious to us!’ But when you bring that kind of gift, why should he show you any favor at all?

“Oh, to find one priest among you who would shut the doors and refuse this kind of sacrifice! I have no pleasure in you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will not accept your offerings.

“But my name will be honored by the Gentiles from morning till night. All around the world they will offer sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty. “But you dishonor it, saying that my altar is not important and encouraging people to bring cheap, sick animals to offer to me on it.

 “You say, ‘Oh, it’s too difficult to serve the Lord and do what he asks.’ And you turn up your noses at the rules he has given you to obey. Think of it! Stolen animals, lame and sick—as offerings to God! Should I accept such offerings as these?” asks the Lord. “Cursed is that man who promises a fine ram from his flock and substitutes a sick one to sacrifice to God. For I am a Great King,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be mightily revered among the Gentiles.”

Playing Heaven’s Song

Yesterday after supper, I was extra tired. My eyes were heavy. I didn’t want to go to bed, because I had things to do: write in my journal, exercise, take care of my dog, read the mail, along with other stuff.

Kat advised me, “Just lay down and close your eyes. You don’t have to go to sleep. But if you do, it’s ok. Just lay there and let yourself rest until I get back.” I knew she’d be gone for about 30 minutes. She also revealed to me, “Laying there without doing anything helps me. You can listen to music… but don’t do anything else. After that, you’ll be ready to go on doing what you have to do.”

So I tried it. Getting under my blanket to take the chill away, I stretched my legs out until my toes were nearly emerged. A sigh filled my lungs, and wonderment filled my thoughts about whether I really would feel rested afterwards.

As I peered into the darkness of my eyelids, and let the music fill my ears, the music started fading from my mind when I began to visualize a scene. In the scene, there was me standing there; now normally I don’t picture my own self; I’m always picturing fictional characters or other people I never have met, but this time, it was plain me.

Golden rays of light shone from the sky as I stood, taking a few steps forward in a field of champagne-colored grass. The grass rustled gently, but I didn’t hear it, I only felt the wind in the form of calmness, peace, and joy which surrounded me, and the rays provided warmth all around. On my face was a smile, and in my eyes was a mission I knew I had, as I peered over the field at something. There was a quiet confidence and an assurance I could get it done. In my hand was my mission: I carefully held it, and I was ready to use it.

I couldn’t make out what was in my hand. In my thoughts, there were questions: What am I doing? Why am I standing there? What is it I am accomplishing?

I tried to control the visual. Zoom out. Try to see what’s on the other side of the field. Figure out what you’re holding. The end of a violin suddenly came into view, but I stopped imagining that when confusion arose. I can’t play the violin! Why would I be holding a violin? …That’s crazy…

But I wanted to keep seeing more, so I begin to brainstorm what my mission was, what I should do, and what God might expect from me. As soon as I began to think about the projects that swamp my life and the issues like money and relationships, the peace left me and the visualization blinked out almost like it was interrupted by white noise or a faulty satellite dish. It was gone because I let my human concerns interrupt it.

I saw no more of it before Kat got back, and we began talking. However, later, the Bible interpreted for me. When going to the Bible app on a mobile device, you can find a ‘Verse of the Day’ at the Dashboard or Home screen; in this case, I went to Bible Gateway and the verse of the day surprised me with its relevance:

“Yes, our natural lives will fade as grass does when it becomes brown and dry. All our greatness is like a flower that droops and falls; but the Word of the Lord will last forever.”

It took me off guard for the verse to be about grass because that’s what I saw! Grass – yes it was brown, but glorious and golden! Not brown and dying. I should be encouraged by your Word, Lord, but instead it makes me sad to think my aspirations, and my dreams will die and fade. This makes me sad, not happy. I’m sorry. I know your Word is what lasts, not my projects or what I want to do.

I left the app and went to other things, talking to Kat, getting sidetracked, but then I wanted to tell her about the oddity of my vision, if that’s what I can call it, and the oddity of the Bible verse, so I went back to the app and the Dashboard had a glitch. Oh man, I scolded myself, why didn’t you just write down the verse when you first saw it? Now it won’t come back. But then I realized, the rest of the app was working, so why not do a search? I searched “brown grass” and it took me to the exact verse I had read. This time I read the whole context, and it was in the context I got the positive message, the interpretation.

”For you have a new life. It was not passed on to you from your parents, for the life they gave you will fade away. This new one will last forever, for it comes from Christ, God’s ever-living Message to men. Yes, our natural lives will fade as grass does when it becomes all brown and dry. All our greatness is like a flower that droops and falls; but the Word of the Lord will last forever. And his message is the Good News that was preached to you.

“So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. Now that you realize how kind the Lord has been to you, put away all evil, deception, envy, and fraud. Long to grow up into the fullness of your salvation; cry for this as a baby cries for his milk.

”Come to Christ, who is the living Foundation of Rock upon which God builds; though men have spurned him, he is very precious to God who has chosen him above all others.

”And now you have become living building-stones for God’s use in building his house. What’s more, you are his holy priests; so come to him—you who are acceptable to him because of Jesus Christ —and offer to God those things that please him. As the Scriptures express it, ‘See, I am sending Christ to be the carefully chosen, precious Cornerstone of my church, and I will never disappoint those who trust in him.’

”Yes, he is very precious to you who believe; and to those who reject him, well—‘The same Stone that was rejected by the builders has become the Cornerstone, the most honored and important part of the building.’ And the Scriptures also say, ‘He is the Stone that some will stumble over, and the Rock that will make them fall.’ They will stumble because they will not listen to God’s Word nor obey it, and so this punishment must follow—that they will fall.

”But you are not like that, for you have been chosen by God himself—you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own—all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were less than nothing; now you are God’s own. Once you knew very little of God’s kindness; now your very lives have been changed by it.”

1 Peter 1:23-25, 2:1-10

I can assume, God probably had my Bible app glitch up so I wouldn’t be able to get depressed! It forced me to read Peter’s true message from God, which was that I am the Lord’s “holy priest”, as Peter says, called to build his church in which Christ is the foundation.

I also did a quick Google search on the symbolic meaning of the violin, and some consider it to be the symbol of Heaven, angelic being, serenity, calmness, and majesty. Here’s how I interpret what I saw:

The field of grass symbolizes the temporary life, and those living in it. The rays of light symbolize heaven, where God is, and it shines on the grass, where I stand. My mission is to play Heaven’s song -the violin was an instrument of Heaven- so that light will shine on the grass and it can live gloriously, eternally. Finally, God’s peace and spirit surrounded me, like the wind.

You want to know what added to the mystery? Let me add to the story:

Today, I was telling my mom about the scene I envisioned. Her face lit up. “What’s funny is, I had a dream this morning that I woke up from, that sounds a lot like what you described.” I’d told her about how I couldn’t “zoom out” and see what was beyond the field of grass. Anytime I tried to, the vision was halted.

“My dream had a field of grass, too!” she said excitedly. “I was standing in a field and was looking out over it, and saw three elderly people. One was a woman who had a cane, but she was running towards the other two men, like she didn’t need it. One of the men helped her into the light, and the other man was standing there, waiting to greet her. I tried to squint and see who they were, and then it zoomed up, like you’re saying yours couldn’t do! Mine could. I zoomed up and tried to look harder to see who it was.”

She realized, in her dream, the elderly woman was going from this life into the next, and she was being greeted by her loved ones who’d already passed on. “But there was the field of grass and the light in my dream,” she said. “Just like you described.” After she told me that, I proceeded to read to her 1 Peter (the passage above), and we were all inspired by how the dream, my vision, and Scripture were connected to each other.

I believe the take-away message we can get from this experience is that our mission as Christians is to become the building-stones for God’s family. Life here on earth is temporary. We should keep our minds set above, less on our projects and our careers, and more on how to bring others into God’s glorious light.

At least, in my case, God was telling me that I should focus less on my personal success, or how many sales I’ll get, or whether I’ll finish a project, and instead, I need to make Heaven my goal. If I am not playing Heaven’s song, if my project is not to advance God’s Kingdom, then my influence will be temporary and fade, or maybe God will even let my goals fizzle and be stopped like my vision was, when I got distracted with my human reasons.

For example, the many Christian writings I have done, here on my blog along the way, I have done for the sole purpose of helping others know the Lord Jesus. My writings have never been stopped, and inspiration has always flowed. But the instant I try to make money the goal, or I try to make impressing people the goal, my creations are stalled, halted, or quit by some circumstance.

All in all, there is nothing depressing about letting God’s message get out. Your brain can tell you that you don’t want to focus your time on Bible things or Christian affairs, instead you want to get out and make a splash! Experience the world without reserve. But as I am learning, the only way to have an eternal impact and earn an eternal reward is to take up the cross, become a building-block, and play Heaven’s song.

Guardian of Your Heart

“God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him!” (Matthew 5:8, CEV)

Do you want to see God? The sixth Beatitude says we should have a pure heart to see God. What is the heart? If nothing else, it is those feelings we associate with the red shape drawn on our Valentines cards, with two rounds at the top and a point at the bottom… Right?

Nah, the heart is more than that. Like the Trinity is God –Father, Son, Spirit – thinking, saying, and acting the same, there are also 3 organs that “speak” to each other a special way inside your body: the heart, the brain, and the stomach. Did you know that according to research, all three organs have their own neurons and neurotransmitters, meaning the heart can communicate to the brain feelings of pain and emotion? Likewise, the stomach can communicate hunger and digestive feelings. Some websites say different things, implying the heart and stomach can “think” on their own, but then others say they can’t. Really, though, what is “thinking”, and what is “feeling”, if not a collective effort of the body’s functions?

Think about a scenario: a man is waiting for his wife to stride downstairs donned in her little black dress for the date –wouldn’t his heart be racing as he envisions the dinner and car ride home? How about another: a kid walks in the bedroom while her parents are watching a midnight horror film and catches a glimpse of blood and gore – wouldn’t her heart be pounding when she runs back to bed and feels monsters underneath? In the same way, your stomach grumbles and you think, I’m hungry. It’s all feelings, and feelings are the government of your thoughts.

To be what God intends for us to be, you and I need to give our brain the role of guardian. Imagine that your organs are a family, your heart and stomach being dependents (children), while your brain is the independent (parent). They come to your brain with emotions of anger, fear, an adrenaline rush, or a lack of appetite. Your brain executes a plan determined by surroundings. For example, someone is walking nearby in the street, at the same pace as you, oh, but maybe a step or two quicker; immediately, an adrenaline rush begins to occur and your mind works out the facts of whether you have a stalker. Is the person suspicious looking? Is he armed, strong, and are you alone? Then suddenly, he crosses the street and heads towards the other block. Your reasoning grows serene at the realization he is a mere stranger.

In the example above, the heart was an influence to your thoughts. How? A pumping heart can affect your thoughts, making your brain scramble to keep calm.

But whether or not the heart’s neurons can grow fearful or the brain itself does the “feeling” and the “thinking” does not matter for this discussion. We can wait until later for science to discover the details. Right now, whether he means the Valentines heart or the muscly organ, Jesus has our answer in Matthew 15:16-20 regarding the role of the heart:

“Don’t you understand?” Jesus asked him. “Don’t you see that anything you eat passes through the digestive tract and out again? But evil words come from an evil heart and defile the man who says them. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile; but there is no spiritual defilement from eating without first going through the ritual of ceremonial handwashing!” (TLB)

The Old Testament also speaks of the heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:

“The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! He searches all hearts and examines deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to his deeds—how he has lived.” (TLB)

That’s why the heart needs a guardian, because it needs to stay dependent on the brain to make sense of things, and connect with the knowledge of the Lord and His Word. There may be neurons in the heart (estimated to be 40,000), but there are billions more in the brain and the brain is where laws, principles, logic, solutions, and memories are kept.

“For whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are…” (Hebrews 4:12, TLB)

Meanwhile, the stomach (where an estimated 100 million neurons are!) is temporary to this life, and probably sends signals to keep us alive, but does nothing for our spiritual walk. As Jesus said to Satan when he was starving in the wilderness, to keep temptation away,

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

‘No one can live only on food.
People need every word
that God has spoken.’”

(Matthew 4:3-5, CEV)

Paul also makes the argument, in the context of sexual immorality and how wrong it is, that the stomach and the body is temporary and that the body should therefore be used for God’s purposes instead of man’s whims.

“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.”

(1 Corinthians 6:13-14, KJV)

Therefore, the mind should become the guardian of the heart and stomach, watching over them from a leader’s perspective. The mind is where the higher intelligence of Jesus Christ and his gospel is stored, along with steps on how to get to heaven, saving a person from the “second death”:

But those who are cowards, who refuse to believe, who do evil things, who kill, who are sexually immoral, who do evil magic, who worship idols, and who tell lies—all these will have a place in the lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8, ICB)

We must stay on the “road of right living” to stay safe:

“The road of right living bypasses evil;
watch your step and save your life.

First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.”

(Proverbs 16:17-18, The Message)

It takes smarts to decipher “right living”! However, it’s not too hard a concept: even Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith, which is the same as it is now, with faith in Jesus Christ.

Genesis 15:6: “And he [Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He [God] accounted it to him for righteousness.”

In conclusion, with the smartness of your brain, the knowledge of Christ, and the grace of God, you can make your heart pure and keep it clean and fearless in the sight of God.  You’ll find a beautiful treasure waiting! Your pure heart will become the loving kindness behind the logic – the brain’s benefactor – and compassionate intuition will aid your deed doing.

 “So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith. We have been cleansed and made free from feelings of guilt. And our bodies have been washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ICB)

 

 “…Everything about us is bare and wide open to the all-seeing eyes of our living God; nothing can be hidden from him to whom we must explain all that we have done.” (Hebrews 4:13, TLB)

 

”No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God [Jesus], is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.” (John 1:18, NLT)

 

“By the power of your hand, O Lord,
destroy those who look to this world for their reward.
But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.
May their children have plenty,
leaving an inheritance for their descendants.
Because I am righteous, I will see you.
When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.”

(Psalm 17:14-15, NLT)

“You can either doubt God and think he is in no part of your life, or you can believe God and think he is in every part of your life - everything changes.” ~Lacy Andrews

 

Purity of Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

-Matthew 5:8

What does it mean to be “pure in heart”?

 

Pure in heart is being “unmixed” from sin, and without blemish.

Psalm 119:1-3 (ASV)  “Blessed are they that are perfect in the way, who walk in the law of Jehovah. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, that seek him with the whole heart.  Yea, they do no unrighteousness; They walk in his ways.”

John 12:3 (WEB) “Mary, therefore, took a pound of ointment of pure nard, very precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”

Pure in heart is being morally clean.

 “Who may climb the mountain of the Lord and enter where he lives? Who may stand before the Lord? Only those with pure hands and hearts, who do not practice dishonesty and lying. They will receive God’s own goodness as their blessing from him, planted in their lives by God himself, their Savior.” Psalm 24:3-5 (TLB)

Proverbs 30:11-14 (NIV)  “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among mankind.”

Romans 12:1-2 (ASV) “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Pure in heart is being ceremonially undefiled.

Malachi 1:7-10 (AMP) “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ By thinking that the table of the Lord is contemptible and may be despised. When you [priests] present the blind [animals] for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer such a thing [as a blind or lame or sick animal] to your governor [as a gift or as payment for your taxes]. Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you graciously?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering from your hand [as an imperfect animal for sacrifice], will He show favor to any of you?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Oh, that there were even one among you [whose duty it is to minister to Me] who would shut the gates, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar uselessly [with an empty, worthless pretense]! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘nor will I accept an offering from your hand.’”

Mark 7:14-23 (TLB) “Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. ‘All of you listen,’ he said, ‘and try to understand. Your souls aren’t harmed by what you eat, but by what you think and say!'”

“Then he went into a house to get away from the crowds, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the statement he had just made.

“’Don’t you understand either?’ he asked. ‘Can’t you see that what you eat won’t harm your soul? For food doesn’t come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the digestive system.’ (By saying this he showed that every kind of food is kosher.)

“And then he added, ‘It is the thought-life that pollutes. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts of lust, theft, murder, adultery, wanting what belongs to others, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, pride, and all other folly. All these vile things come from within; they are what pollute you and make you unfit for God.’”

 

Why is a pure heart important?

A pure heart brings glory to God.

1 Peter 2:11-12 (ICB) “Dear friends, you are like visitors and strangers in this world. So I beg you to stay away from the evil things your bodies want to do. These things fight against your soul. People who do not believe are living all around you. They might say that you are doing wrong. So live good lives. Then they will see the good things you do, and they will give glory to God on the day when Christ comes again.”

Colossians 1:6-8 (TLB) “The same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world and changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day you heard it and understood about God’s great kindness to sinners. Epaphras, our much-loved fellow worker, was the one who brought you this Good News. He is Jesus Christ’s faithful slave, here to help us in your place. And he is the one who has told us about the great love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.”

A pure heart is the reason Jesus died.

Hebrews 10:8-10 (WEB) “Previously saying, ‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you didn’t desire, neither had pleasure in them’ (those which are offered according to the law), then he has said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He takes away the first, that he may establish the second, by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Ephesians 5:25-27 (TLB) “And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the Church when he died for her, to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s Word; so that he could give her to himself as a glorious Church without a single spot or wrinkle or any other blemish, being holy and without a single fault.”

A pure heart determines a righteous character.

Titus 1:15-16 (The Message) “Everything is clean to the clean-minded; nothing is clean to dirty-minded unbelievers. They leave their dirty fingerprints on every thought and act. They say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words. They’re real creeps, disobedient good-for-nothings.”

1 Peter 2:18-25 (ICB) “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters. Do this with all respect. You should obey masters who are good and kind, and you should obey masters who are bad. A person might have to suffer even when he has done nothing wrong. But if he thinks of God and bears the pain, this pleases God. If you are punished for doing wrong, there is no reason to praise you for bearing punishment. But if you suffer for doing good, and you are patient, then that pleases God. That is what you were called to do. Christ suffered for you. He gave you an example to follow. So you should do as he did. ‘He did no sin. He never lied.’ (Isaiah 53:9) People insulted Christ, but he did not insult them in return. Christ suffered, but he did not threaten. He let God take care of him. God is the One who judges rightly. Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross. He did this so that we would stop living for sin and start living for what is right. And we are healed because of his wounds. You were like sheep that went the wrong way. But now you have come back to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

 “Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.

“Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know. The Judge is standing just around the corner.

“Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.” James 5:7-11 (The Message)

A pure heart will be judged as pure.

2 Peter 3:10-16 (TLB) “The day of the Lord is surely coming, as unexpectedly as a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the heavenly bodies will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be burned up.

“And so since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives we should be living! You should look forward to that day and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire, and the heavenly bodies will melt and disappear in flames. But we are looking forward to God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth afterwards, where there will be only goodness.

“Dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen and for him to come, try hard to live without sinning; and be at peace with everyone so that he will be pleased with you when he returns.

“And remember why he is waiting. He is giving us time to get his message of salvation out to others. Our wise and beloved brother Paul has talked about these same things in many of his letters. Some of his comments are not easy to understand, and there are people who are deliberately stupid, and always demand some unusual interpretation—they have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of the Scripture—and the result is disaster for them.”

Romans 2:4-16 (TLB) “Don’t you realize how patient he is being with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see that he has been waiting all this time without punishing you, to give you time to turn from your sin? His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.

“But no, you won’t listen; and so you are saving up terrible punishment for yourselves because of your stubbornness in refusing to turn from your sin; for there is going to come a day of wrath when God will be the just Judge of all the world. He will give each one whatever his deeds deserve. He will give eternal life to those who patiently do the will of God,seeking for the unseen glory and honor and eternal life that he offers. But he will terribly punish those who fight against the truth of God and walk in evil ways—God’s anger will be poured out upon them. There will be sorrow and suffering for Jews and Gentiles alike who keep on sinning.  But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who obey him, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  For God treats everyone the same.

“He will punish sin wherever it is found. He will punish the heathen when they sin, even though they never had God’s written laws, for down in their hearts they know right from wrong. God’s laws are written within them; their own conscience accuses them, or sometimes excuses them. And God will punish the Jews for sinning because they have his written laws but don’t obey them. They know what is right but don’t do it. After all, salvation is not given to those who know what to do, unless they do it. The day will surely come when at God’s command Jesus Christ will judge the secret lives of everyone, their inmost thoughts and motives; this is all part of God’s great plan, which I proclaim.”

A pure heart is the key to seeing God.

1 John 3:1-3 (AMP) “See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, we are [even here and] now children of God, and it is not yet made clear what we will be [after His coming]. We know that when He comes and is revealed, we will [as His children] be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is [in all His glory]. And everyone who has this hope [confidently placed] in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (holy, undefiled, guiltless).”

Hebrews 12:14 (The Message) “Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God.”

How can I be pure in heart?

 “Anyone who says he is a Christian but doesn’t control his sharp tongue is just fooling himself, and his religion isn’t worth much. The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Father’s point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lord—not soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world.” James 1:26-27 (TLB)

Live every day with honorable intentions.

James 4:1-3 (The Message) ” Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.”

Live every day with honest words.

Matthew 5:33-37 (TLB) “Again, the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not break your vows to God but must fulfill them all.’  But I say: Don’t make any vows! And even to say ‘By heavens!’ is a sacred vow to God, for the heavens are God’s throne. And if you say ‘By the earth!’ it is a sacred vow, for the earth is his footstool. And don’t swear ‘By Jerusalem!’ for Jerusalem is the capital of the great King. Don’t even swear ‘By my head!’ for you can’t turn one hair white or black. Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong.”

Live every day with a desire to be worthy of Jesus’s life.

1 Peter 1:22-23 (ICB) “Now you have made yourselves pure by obeying the truth. Now you can have true love for your brothers. So love each other deeply with all your heart. You have been born again. This new life did not come from something that dies, but from something that cannot die. You were born again through God’s living message that continues forever.”

Live every day with real faith.

Hebrews 11:6 (AMP) “But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.”

James 5:15-16 (NIV) “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

 

2 Chronicles 30:17-20 (TLB) “Since many of the people arriving from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun were ceremonially impure because they had not undergone the purification rites, the Levites killed their Passover lambs for them, to sanctify them. Then King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were permitted to eat the Passover anyway, even though this was contrary to God’s rules. But Hezekiah said, 'May the good Lord pardon everyone who determines to follow the Lord God of his fathers, even though he is not properly sanctified for the ceremony.' And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and did not destroy them.”

 

 

The Social Gospel

Do you hear the word “unbiased” often? Many people, especially millennials, strive to be unbiased in their viewpoint. I myself have heard the word a lot in conversations with friends when we talk about politics, education, and religion. It seems that the more a person learns, listens, and observes, the more unbiased she or he becomes.

First, let’s get the dictionary definition of unbiased:

Dictionary.com:

Unbiased (Adjective) - Not biased or prejudiced; fair; impartial.

English Oxford Dictionary:

Unbiased (Adjective) – showing no prejudice for or against something; impartial.

Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Unbiased (Adjective) – 1. Free from bias; especially: free from all prejudice and favoritism: eminently fair; an unbiased opinion

To be unbiased means you are able to understand opinions other than your own; your opinion is tolerant, because your mind reflects other opinions, and you believe the other person’s worldview to be acceptable and pure despite being different from your own.

Contrarily, a biased person is seen as someone who takes a stance FOR or AGAINST a view. Being unbiased, however, means to take a neutral stance, neither for nor against a view. For example, if you are having a discussion about politics, and you are talking to a biased person, he or she would obviously argue in favor of a certain candidate, and if you didn’t agree, then you are wrong; but if you talk to an unbiased person, he or she would stay neutral and would never take a view, instead listening to your point of view and debating the candidates without loyalty to a side, and with a broad outlook on pros and cons.

There are both qualities and flaws of unbiasedness: the qualities are sound judgement, ability to see all sides, and knowledgeability; the flaws are a sense of apathy, nonchalant impression of outcomes, and never being a team player.

I desired to be that, until I learned that living my life trying to be unbiased (as a rule of thumb) was a trap secularism set for me – the trap we shall call The Social Gospel – which swayed me to avoid righteous action and stop from speaking truth. Don’t get me wrong, the dictionary definition of unbiased is ok, or using the word in a sentence, or being unbiased accidentally on occasion, but when you try and live by the principle of it, it becomes the antichrist!

 “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 1 John 4:2-3 (NIV)

What is the Social Gospel, you may ask?

The Social Gospel defined is the life principle of caring about others’ views and teaching God’s love, while refusing to care about their souls, their sinful habits, or the possible descent into Hell they may endure.

It’s not easy to say this, but being unbiased is a dangerous trap that can lead to numbness of character and lack of obedience. By reading the Old Testament, we can see how passionate God’s people were as warriors, prophets, and kings, and it can be a hard pill to swallow for a person who sails through life trying to stay neutral. Even in Romans, there’s a warning: don’t seek after self-contentment; seek the truth of God’s wrath and judgement toward evil, realizing that you can grow haughty in your pursuit of open-mindedness.

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”  Romans 2:5-11 (NIV)

The Righteous Alternative

Avoid The Social Gospel. Utilize that unbiased attitude in a different way than what secularism teaches: be unbiased for God, being willing to listen to and accept God’s word, will, and way in a fair and tolerant manner.

Hmm, if you’re like me, you might have been told, “Christians are more biased than secularists” but that’s not true, because you have been called to imitate God, and God is the #1 most impartial, fair, merciful, and just judge that ever lived!

“Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.'” Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

 

Psalm 103 (CEB)

Let my whole being bless the Lord!
Let everything inside me bless his holy name!
Let my whole being bless the Lord
and never forget all his good deeds:
     how God forgives all your sins,
heals all your sickness,
     saves your life from the pit,
crowns you with faithful love and compassion,
     and satisfies you with plenty of good things
so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s.

 The Lord works righteousness;
does justice for all who are oppressed.
 God made his ways known to Moses;
made his deeds known to the Israelites.
 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
     because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.
 As far as east is from west—
that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.
 Like a parent feels compassion for their children—
that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.
 Because God knows how we’re made,
God remembers we’re just dust.

 The days of a human life are like grass:
they bloom like a wildflower;
     but when the wind blows through it, it’s gone;
even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it.
 But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now

for those who honor him.
And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren
         of those who keep his covenant
and remember to keep his commands.
 The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

 You divine messengers,
bless the Lord!
You who are mighty in power and keep his word,
who obey everything he says,
bless him!
 All you heavenly forces,
bless the Lord!
All you who serve him and do his will,
bless him!
 All God’s creatures,
bless the Lord!
Everywhere, throughout his kingdom,
let my whole being
bless the Lord!”

Hymn of the Day: Almighty by Wayne Watson

Multifaceted Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

The world is full of people who are self-driven: as long as they aren’t in pain or in some sort of discomfort, their lives are just fine.  Their own happiness, reputation, and enjoyment are what’s important. They would rather watch and laugh at other people’s misfortunes instead of lending a hand.

"The earth, O Lord, is full of Your mercy; teach me Your statutes." Psalm 119:64 (MEV)
"This is what the Lord Almighty says... show mercy and compassion to one another..." Zechariah 7:9 (NIV)

We are to show mercy… but what is mercy? It’s surely not something that comes naturally for us, because it’s a trait of God Almighty, but it’s a trait that all Christians must learn to imitate.  It’s part of God’s statutes.

"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For he who has shown no mercy will have judgment without mercy, for mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13 (MEV)

Showing mercy is… being able to cry in another person’s skin; it’s feeling their pain, being concerned about their wellbeing, and having a strong desire to do something to help out.  We were put on this earth to show God’s mercy to the people around us.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

Showing mercy is… realizing that we are no different than our neighbor, and reaching out to show kindness to them.  Before receiving God’s grace, we were the same as those who aren’t saved.  It’s only by God’s mercy (the same mercy that we are required to imitate) that we are set apart.

"...you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the age of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among them we all also once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)," Ephesians 2:1-5 (MEV)
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turns to you, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 (MEV)

It has been said that the difference between grace and mercy is that grace is giving us what we don’t deserve, while mercy is not giving us what we do deserve. That’s true, but only partially true.  Actually, the difference is that grace takes away our faults, while mercy takes away our pain.

Showing mercy is… knowing when to rebuke a person who is wrong and when to allow the person to have the final word; it’s also knowing how stern or soft to make the rebuke, when you are called to give one.

"But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned." Titus 3:9-11 (NIV)
"Brothers, if a man is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, watching yourselves, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Galations 6:1-2 (MEV)

Showing mercy does NOT… always follow the moral standards of the rest of the world. Worldly common sense would tell you to give a homeless man a 20 dollar bill to pay for his meal. But mercy would tell you not to buy him a meal. Rather, teach a man how to work and then he can feed himself.

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.'  

"We hear that some  among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.  

"Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (NIV)

Sometimes showing mercy must take an extreme stance: it may require to dis-fellowship a brother or sister in Christ who does not try to follow God’s laws.

"Now if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, then take with you one or two others, that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [or pagan] and a tax collector." Matthew 18:15-17 (MEV)
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.  So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

"Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case  you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.' " 1 Corinthians 5:2-23 (NIV)

Most of all, showing mercy calls us to… pray for those who we see living in sin, because “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. So if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have whatever we asked of Him.” 1 John 5:13-15 (MEV)  

As long as we continue to pray for the people we know, God won’t give up trying to reach them to save and to grant them eternal life.

Stop Bad Habits, Start Needing God

Just about everybody has a quirk or flaw about themselves they don’t like. If you’re like me, you have a couple of really bad habits you want to change, but it’s hard. It’s maybe impossible to, and sometimes, you know God wouldn’t approve of the bad habit since the Bible calls it sin.

So the other day, I tried to find a brain hack for my bad habit. Literally. I was emerging out of dreamland that morning, and something made me roll over in bed and punch the ‘Home’ button on my Ipad to wake it up before even I was awake.  I went to Google and searched what part of the brain’s functions governs habits, such as over-eating, smoking, lying, etc.  In a nutshell, this is the facts research tells us:

There is a place where cells are located, at the center of your brain, called the bed nucleus. That cell group sends signals through the stria terminalis, which looks like a cable connecting and transmitting info from part to part. Also, the amygdala (another part) is connected to the stria terminalis, and it releases emotions. If you have a craving that says “I want a hot dog”, emotion is sent from the amygdala to the bed nucleus, where the nuclei send the reply, “Go to Sonic and buy one!”

(Disclaimer: my research is only from scouring various medical writings, and is not doctoral advice.)

I sat up from bed as I rubbed my eyes, wondering how I could stop my bad habit after learning the facts. There’s gotta be SOME way to apply the knowledge and stop sinning, I thought to myself. How?  I pondered throughout the day, but sheesh, I’m no neurologist! I can’t engineer a new way to cure cravings (can I?)! So I gave up on that idea of solving the problem, until late the next night…

…I was going to bed and got that bad-habit-craving again. My thoughts were filled. It was impossible to not think about the craving…

….That’s when a new character entered the scene for the first time ever: RATIONALITY. If my brain was a movie script and there were three characters, RATIONALITY was the new guy in town, breaking the endless cycle. The thought process went like this:

CRAVING: You want it! Get it. Let’s move it, move it.

SELF: I shouldn’t! God says I shouldn’t, so I shouldn’t.

CRAVING: Ok, yeah you’re right... NOT! (shoves SELF) Let’s move it, move it.

SELF: No! I want to please God, not you. You’re not my boss!

CRAVING:  Oh yeah? (scoffs) I won’t let you go to sleep until I’m happy. You will have insomnia, stress, anxiety, and depression.

SELF: ...you’re blackmailing me?

CRAVING: (shrugs) Uh... yeah! That’s what people call it, but why be so technical? Come on! It’ll be fun. Let’s move it, move it. You like it.

SELF: (follows CRAVING)

RATIONALITY enters and stands protectively between CRAVING and SELF, defending SELF.

RATIONALITY: I couldn’t help but overhear. CRAVING is pressuring you right now, SELF; if you give in, you will only regret it later and wish you had avoided it. So you might as well not temporarily reward yourself when the guilt lasts a lot longer than the pleasure. What is there to gain in a reward that you’ve already experienced and know, when you could gain so much more by denying CRAVING and doing what you want – what God wants you to want – instead. CRAVING will always pester you, but you have the power to look into the future, see the consequences, and choose to say ‘NO’.

That was the moment in Wizard of Oz when Scarecrow got an honorary degree of T.H.D. from Oz, and started reciting a complicated equation! It was the moment in Labyrinth when Sarah told Jareth, “You have no power over me”. It was the moment in Anastasia when Anya said “Dasvidanya!” to Rasputin and angrily crunched his glowing vile of life-giving energy under her shoe, breaking it and ending the demon. It was the moment my brain got itself in order, and I could think straight long enough for the craving to fade away. Rationality entered the scene, and Self had the chance to decide before Craving dominated.

I don’t consider what happened a cure for my bad habit, or something that can be engineered to work for everyone, but the neurological research helped me, in that moment, rationalize my brain’s activity, the sending of signals back and forth. That gave me a chance to think about the pros and cons of my craving. Sometimes, a chance to wait out the storm is all you need to say ‘NO’.

Unfortunately for our souls, we live in a world where Craving is the hero instead of Rationality; sexuality is exploited and honored, money is power, and addictions are legal. Love is skewed to mean pleasure not sacrifice; virtual reality governs actions; phones feed our cravings and keep us empty of affection; brains therefore develop into a complicated system of iniquity and we no longer recognize who God is or if he even exists. We live in a world where skeptics doubt a God they can’t see, while sending messages to friends 4,000 miles away in 5 seconds which is easy to grasp because it’s somehow normal and explainable.

Well, I’m here to explain God for 100 more words of your time:

Jeremiah 23:5 says, “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch” which is Jesus Christ, the Messiah we now have access to through the historically proven Bible and prayer. To be right with God, to be righteous, we must program our brains to need Christ (1 Peter 2:2, Psalm 37:7). In the Bible it’s known as being thirsty. Read the story about Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4:4-42) for understanding. If you become thirsty for righteousness, Christ will bring you contentment.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s approval.
They will be satisfied.”  -Matthew 5:6

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