Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Pagan Origins Of Spring Cleaning

Februss - The Roman Deity
 Honored By Spring Cleaning
"Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." - Titus 1:15 (KJV)

The season is coming upon us again.  That means it's time to revisit this subject once more.  

Speaking of the December season and related celebrations both religious and secular, Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote a song in 1963 titled, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year."  In it they lauded the roasting of marshmallows, the joy of children playing and, yes, even the dreaded pagan term "Christmas."  Lately this song has been playing on the radio and in retailers across America. And so, once again, we are made aware that the world is turning its calendars nearer to the 25th of December and we are left to debate whether or not this time of the year is wonderful at all.

To some it is shunned as Saturnalia (even though that event was actually commemorated on the 17th of December, not the 25th).  To others it is shunned as the birthday of the deity Mithras (even though Mithraic mysticism did not commemorate a birth of its deity).  To others it is shunned as a day dedicated to the worship of a late Roman deity called the Unconquerable Sun (even though Sunday is also a day specifically dedicated to the same deity which few seem to object to).  To some it is accepted as the birthday of Jesus Christ (even though there is absolutely no evidence of this).  To others it is celebrated as a day of religious remembrance of the birth of the Savior (even though no such celebration is mandated or mentioned in Scripture).  To others it is a holiday, either secular, familiar or religious, used as a time for family to gather much like Thanksgiving Day.  

Regardless, somewhere around Black Friday in the United States religious zealots on two fronts begin sharpening their swords in eager anticipation of December 1st when, after a year of the subject sleeping soundly, the war once again begins to rage.  On one side we have the Pro-Christmas Zealots who, with Bible in one hand and candy canes in the other, begin to hurl tinsel covered evergreens across the battlefield at their opponents while tugging on their ugly Christmas sweaters and adjusting their goofy reindeer horn headbands.  To the other side are the Anti-Christmas Zealots who, with Bible in one hand and Alexander Hislop's "The Two Babylons" in the other, fire furious salvos of pagan artwork depicting December deities in full celebratory regalia while proudly sporting "Bah Humbug" and "Vote For Grinch" t-shirts.  
Between the two sides is a battlefield littered with the broken bodies of gingerbread men, Santa's burning in effigy, smoldering mistletoe, chestnuts burning over open fires and scattered pieces of Jeremiah 10 (King James Version only please) along with a multitude of confused people who simply stand looking at each other with perplexed faces wondering what just happened.  You see, they are the residents of the middle ground and, for them, both sides seem a little odd.  After all, for 11 months of the year both sides are fighting for the same cause.  But with the turn of a page on the calendar everything changed.  Why?  The Pro-Christmas Zealots might say they are defending against puritanical Pharisaical Christianity while the Anti-Christmas Zealots might say they are defending against libertine neo-Pagan Christianity.  


By all means, let us all agree that paganism is pagan and, therefore, not Christian.  But let us go further into the business of paganism and, specifically, that of pagan origins.  Let us consider a grossly pagan practice steeped in idolatry and, yet, practiced by many Christians today:  SPRING CLEANING.  

Yes, Christian housewife, you are potentially leading your children into the very clutches of Satan's claws by insisting that they assist you in the ritual purification ceremony called SPRING CLEANING.  What you are probably not aware of, but thankfully have an authority such as myself to instruct you concerning, is the horribly pagan origin of this seemingly innocent practice in which a housewife systematically demolishes an entire household so that it may be set in order once again.  Lifting your broom against the evil dust bunnies which lurk under the couch may seem like a good practice to you, but are you aware that you are performing a ritual in honor of the Roman deity Februss?  That's right!  The god for whom our month February is named to honor was the god of ritual purification and, when springtime rolls around, was honored by a month-long period of washing, cleaning and purification of persons, homes and lands.  

Februalia, as it was called, is very easily identifiable with our modern practice of SPRING CLEANING!  Notice the similarities:  Februalia began in February.  In warmer climates, it is not unusual for individuals to begin their SPRING CLEANING in February as the coldest parts of winter begin to pass.  Regardless, as with the correlation between Saturnalia and Christmas, Februalia and SPRING CLEANING may not necessarily occur on the same day but their ceremonies are linked because of similarity.  With Februalia houses and persons would be purified by washing and cleaning.  All this time you thought washing those windows, scrubbing those floors and airing the house out was just in order to expel the must of winter.  Such ignorance!  You've been celebrating Februalia and are participating in a pagan celebration!  

SPRING CLEANING is an accepted Christian practice with roots deeply tied to paganism and is directly correlated to the keeping of Februalia in honor of the god Februss.  Now that you know the pagan origins of SPRING CLEANING can you continue to practice it with a clear conscience?  Do you believe God is pleased with your keeping of Februalia?  Is it not idolatry to perform an act in honor of the god Februss?

Are you still reading this without laughing at my premise?

But here is the part that is not laughable.  Are you aware that, according to Scripture, if you really believe SPRING CLEANING is a ceremony in honor of a pagan deity and your conscience condemns you for doing it, you are wrong to do so?  Yes, dear Christian reader, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave clear directive in regards to such matters in Romans 14.  If you have a personal conviction regarding SPRING CLEANING then you are bound by your conviction and your refusal to participate therein should be done to the honoring of God and not the shaming or shunning of your Brother.  On the other hand, if you do not believe SPRING CLEANING is a ceremony in honor of a pagan deity and your conscience does not condemn you for doing it, you are not wrong in doing so and should keep the practice of spring cleaning in honor of the Lord God and not for the shaming or shunning of your Brother.  

Romans 14 is an easily forgotten passage of Scripture because it removes from every Christian the right to judge another Christian on issues which are not addressed with specificity in the Scriptures.  For the Apostle Paul the issue was the keeping of Jewish religious holidays and dietary laws.  Nowhere in the New Covenant was the keeping of these portions of the Law of Moses mandated neither was it condemned.  They fell into a category we could call "personal."  Romans 14:1 called them "doubtful disputations" in the KJV or, perhaps more clearly understood, "opinions" in the ESV.  If an individual wanted to abstain from eating meat as a personal conviction, they could.  However, they were forbidden by God from condemning their Brother who ate meat.  If an individual wanted to have their Assembly on Friday or Tuesday instead of Sunday then it was a matter of personal preference.  They were not to be condemned for doing so neither were they to condemn others for not doing so.  

The entire issue of Romans 14 comes back to motive.  Why is the Brother observing a day?  Why is a Brother not observing a day?  Why is a Brother eating meat?  Why isn't a Brother eating meat?  Why can this Brother do something for which I feel convicted?  Why doesn't this Brother do something which I feel no conviction over?  Motive.  Motive.  Motive.  He that does it does it so that he may honor the Lord and he that doesn't do abstains so that he may honor the Lord (see Romans 14:5-6).  If the Word of God condemns something explicitly we must lift our voice as the Church universal and condemn it as well.  However, those things which are not so addressed must be allowed to fall into the category of "personal" and left to the conscience of the individual Believer.

What are we commanded then to do?

Romans 14:1, 10-17 (HCSB)
"Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues...But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God...Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat.  Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." 

We are told clearly to ACCEPT the one who holds a different opinion on doubtful issues.  We are forbidden to shun them, separate from them or otherwise judge them so as to isolate ourselves from them and cause them to stumble.  We are to give them liberty and walk before God in our integrity in obedience to the Spirit as it directs our conscience while leaving the Spirit to work in the conscience of another Believer for that which is necessary in his own life.  The written Word of God lays down the absolute "bottom line" standard of the Church.  The Spirit of God indwelling the Believer may well give him convictions which go beyond that "bottom line" but that does not give that Believer the right to mandate those personal convictions, or doubtful issues, on the remainder of the Body of Christ.  Instead, he is commanded to keep his conviction to himself (see Romans 14:22) while embracing other Believers who maintain the "bottom line" while possibly holding to different opinions on doubtful issues.

The Scripture says, "
Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men" (Romans 14:18).  What does that say of the one who does not serve Christ in that way but, rather, judges against his Brother in personal matters and doubtful issues?

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  If you are convinced Februalia and SPRING CLEANING are the same and it is a pagan custom that your conscience cannot allow you to keep as a Christian, then do not keep it.  You would be wrong to.  But, do not dare to condemn your Brother or think yourself morally superior to fellow Believers who do not share your conviction because the Word of God stands against you doing so.  On the other hand, if you chose to participate in SPRING CLEANING leaving aside the pagan origins with realization that your motive for doing so has nothing to do with pleasing the god Februss and everything to do with cleaning your house even though the actions associated therewith may look extremely similar...you're free to do so according to the Scriptures.  But, do not dare to condemn your Brother or think yourself morally superior to fellow Believers who do not share your liberty because the Word of God stands against you doing so.

In short, read Romans 14.  Obey Romans 14.  Live Romans 14.  Do that and God will be pleased with you as a Christian.  Furthermore, you might be surprised how much more easily the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is maintained (see Ephesians 4:3).  Funny how easy it is to be a Christian when we follow the instructions.  


Merry Februalia, everybody!  Let the Church roll on!  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cause of Death: Divorce

"For the entire Law has been obeyed when you have kept the single precept, which says, 'You are to love your fellow man equally with yourself.' But if you are perpetually snarling and snapping at one another, beware lest you are destroyed by one another." - Galatians 5:14-15

It is Sunday morning at First Church and Sister Emily sits in her car in the parking lot debating whether she should try to go inside or turn back to her own home.  She has already spent most of the morning in deep internal conflict.  On the one hand she understands the Biblical command that Christians must not neglect to assemble together.  On the other hand is a pale circle around one finger serving as a reminder of what has been lost.  Two years of courtship, five years of marriage, three months of turmoil and fifteen minutes before a judge last Friday added up to the dreadful and shadowy specter of abandonment, lost love and divorce.

It wasn't her choice.  When she walked down the aisle of First Church a few years earlier with the love of her life at her side she believed that it would last forever.  There was nothing to indicate that, after only a few short years, her life would be torn apart by lies, deception and infidelity.  Now she was left alone to pick up the pieces of a shattered life while trying to comprehend how there could possibly be a tolerable future ahead.  Days passed like weeks and nights like eternities.  The silence in her home was deafening and often drove her to despondency.

She sits gripping the steering wheel staring at the front door of the Church wondering what it would be like to go inside.  The Pastor had told her that she must do everything possible to reconcile the marriage.  Had she?  Other Saints in the Church had told her she just needed to pray more and believe enough that her husband would come back.  Had she?  Nothing like this had ever happened to a family in First Church before.  All she could hear was the distant echo of laughter shared with her former husband, the words "till death do you part" and a sermon from Malachi 2:16 punctuating the point that God absolutely hates divorce.  Does that mean God hates the divorcee as well?

Her deep contemplation is interrupted by the sudden sound of music radiating from within the House of Worship.  It was a familiar song.  She had sung the solo before many times in the past when she was part of the worship team.  "If I'm going in," she thought, "I'll need to go now."  And so she did.

Walking through the doorway, she noticed the glances of a few stragglers who were shuffling back and forth trying to get to their Sunday School rooms or into the main Sanctuary.  Perhaps she was just being overly sensitive.  Brushing aside a few thoughts, she walked into the Sanctuary and debated.  Should she walk up to the seat she had occupied faithfully since she was a little girl coming to Church with her parents and where, up until a few months earlier, she had sat with her now ex-husband?  Or should she just try to shuffle into an empty spot at the back of the Sanctuary and try to go unnoticed?  Should she take a chance at normalcy or resign herself to the back pew?

She decides to try to return to normal.  She walks forward, begins to work her way to her normal seat when she begins to catch the eyes of those around her.  And here, out of necessity, is where we must leave Sister Emily's story.

THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE CONCERNING DIVORCE
The New Testament gives two very clear statements in regard to the subject of divorce.  And while much commentary has been and will be written on the subject, please indulge a few more lines of exposition in this regard.  The first is found in the teachings of Christ in Matthew 5:32 where He decries the accepted practice of divorce for any purpose and introduces a righteous judgment allowing divorce for the cause of sexual immorality.  The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 7:15 giving liberty to the believing spouse if the unbeliever decides to abandon the marriage.

Divorce is not the unpardonable sin.  In fact, if we truly believe the Scriptures for what they say, divorce is not necessarily a sin at all.  It is true that God hates divorce (see Malachi 2:16) and that is only logical.  Anyone who has been through divorce hates divorce.  Imagine how horrible God must have felt to have had to look at His own people and say, "I'm divorcing you because of your immorality."  But that's exactly what the Almighty God did in Jeremiah 3:8.  God hates divorce because it represents the violation of a solemn vow by one or both parties.  God especially hates it from the standpoint of an innocent party.  Reading Jeremiah 3 gives you a very good picture of how the innocent party feels when they are betrayed.  So we can say with absolute certainty that God hates divorce just as any other innocent divorcee hates it.

For some the issue is remarriage after divorce.  However the Bible, if we truly believe the Scriptures for what they say, give no prohibition against remarriage except in certain circumstances.  For example, Christ in Matthew 5 disqualifies the sexually immoral party from remarrying as well as the party who divorces his/her spouse without Biblically justified cause.  He does not, however, disqualify the innocent party.  This is reiterated by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 who says, reflecting back on the justified causes for a Christian to divorce, that an individual who has been loosed from a spouse has not sinned if they marry.  It would be hypocritical and unrighteous of God to take any other view since He, as an innocent party, took for Himself another bride (the Church - see 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:22-33).  "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid" (Romans 9:14 KJV).

DO CHRISTIANS HAVE THE RIGHT TO IMPOSE PERSONAL CONVICTIONS UPON OTHER CHRISTIANS?
The Apostle Paul especially took great pains to expound upon the subject of Christian liberty and personal convictions.  This was of a necessity because of the nature of his work and calling.  Paul, as Apostle to the Gentiles, was confronted with a demographic which was largely ignorant of the Old Covenant Law.  The conflict between the Gentile Church and the Jewish Church was great and their relationship often turbulent.  Although the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 had already determined the Gentiles were not to be held to keeping the Mosaic Law, there were still ethnic Jews within the Church which held personal convictions that they tried to force upon other Christians.

The entire 14th chapter of Romans is devoted to the issue.  Therein we see the Holy Spirit condemning those who would impose their personal convictions upon another Christian which does not hold the same conviction.  God makes it clear that the Christian is to have faith in what they do and keep that faith to themselves.  If their personal conviction is violated, they are violating their own conscience and therefore sinning.  However, if their Brother does not hold the same personal conviction, nothing has been violated and the Brother is not guilty of sin.

We recognize that some may have a personal conviction on the subject of Christians and divorce.  But these should take notice of the authoritative, inspired and written Word of God and understand that their personal conviction is not applicable to the rest of the Body of Christ.  To condemn the justifiably divorced on the grounds of personal conviction which contradicts the established precedent of the Word of God is absolutely wrong in the eyes of God and must be entirely avoided.  Do Christians have the right to impose personal convictions upon other Christians?  The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul says no.  We must then agree with God and His Apostle.

MURDERING THE CHRISTIAN DIVORCEE 
There are occasions when a Christian divorcee makes themselves a martyr.  For example, a Christian divorcee who is convinced their divorce was justified according to the authority of the Word of God may begin to feel compelled to act as a crusader on the subject of divorce.  Too often this crusade ends with no one having a change of heart and the divorcee developing a hard and bitter spirit.  In that case, the issue is not murder; it is suicide.  Those who have been impacted by divorce and are themselves Christian divorcees who are innocent parties based on Biblical authority need not feel compelled to defend themselves.  An innocent party needs no defense when confronted by a prosecutor without evidence.

Unfortunately there are also times when a Christian divorcee is the victim of cold-blooded murder.  They are rejected, refused and rebuffed.  Other Christians look down on them, especially those who have never had to contend with the collapse of a marriage or the infidelity of a spouse.  They do not understand and, in some cases, refuse to understand the Biblical doctrine in this regard.  Sadly enough, there are also those who understand and embrace Biblical truth in the matter but who feel a sense of self-righteous superiority since they have not had to walk the same path as the Christian divorcee.  Too often the Christian divorcee is driven away from the fellowship of other Christians because of this display of intolerance.  They are devoured, as the Apostle Paul warned the Galatians against, by their own Brethren.

This horrible calumny must end!  It is reprehensible, irresponsible and incredibly anti-Christian.  The way this reflects upon the Church and her Head is the antithesis of the nature of God.  Rather, the Church must stand with the Christian divorcee and provide the atmosphere in which the individual can be healed.  Divorce is, in many ways, worse than the death of a loved one.  At least when a loved one dies there is a grave to visit symbolizing happy memories that cannot be altered.  With a divorce, the happy memories are overshadowed by the realization that the other party is continuing to live another life away from you.  There is no grave and, therefore, there exists a lack of reassuring closure.  Should it not be the duty of the Church to come under the faithful innocent party, carry their burden and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2)?

HOW WOULD YOU REACT TO SISTER EMILY?
So let us imagine that you are a member of First Church and Sister Emily passes you in the foyer.  What do you do?  Her divorce was finalized only two days before.  Are you embarrassed of her?  Are you ashamed to be called her friend - her Brother or Sister?  Will you quickly dart out of the way to avoid contact?  Or will you embrace her?  Will you uplift her?  Will you remind her that God understand what she is going through because He has been there too?  Will you help her move forward?  Will you recognize that she is still a Christian, still valuable in the Kingdom of God, still of use to the Master and still important in your life and to the local Church body?

Will your feelings change in 8 months when she and Brother Charles begin sitting next to each other occasionally at the restaurant after church?  What about in a year when they begin to develop a very close friendship?  How will you look at her (and him for that matter) after 18 months when their friendship has developed into a relationship?  What about after 2 years when she's walking down the aisle in a long white dress with Brother Charles waiting at the front of the Sanctuary to meet his glowing bride?

How you should react is simple:  Stand on Biblical authority, raise your hands to heaven and say, "God hated how this started, but look what He has done to make it right!  Blessed be the name of the Lord!"  Rejoice that, out of a situation God hated, He and Sister Emily have ultimately won the victory.

But can you do it?  Can WE do it?  We can if we would.  What is more, we must.  People walk away from God for some of the most trivial reasons.  Any Christian who survives the horror of divorce while maintaining their love for Christ and a desire to continue in His Body as a productive and faithful member is not a sinner.  They are a hero.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"It's Just The Devil" And Other Things NOT To Tell Someone Who Is Depressed

"Then Job spoke again: 'I have heard all this before.  What miserable comforters you are!  Won’t you ever stop blowing hot air?  What makes you keep on talking?  I could say the same things if you were in my place.  I could spout off criticism and shake my head at you.  But if it were me, I would encourage you.  I would try to take away your grief.  Instead, I suffer if I defend myself, and I suffer no less if I refuse to speak.'" - Job 16:1-6 (NLT)

The normative Pentecostal reaction to depression has been curious to say the least.  If someone comes to us with a gaunt appearance, having lost much weight and energy and wearing a forlorn expression we would know something was wrong.  If they were to say, "Yes, I'm suffering from cancer," we would be immediately moved with compassion.  Our reaction would be the same if they were to tell us they were suffering from any number of physical ailments.  We would understand if they were quiet, withdrawn or even ill-tempered.  Sympathy and empathy would come most naturally.

Now, imagine another person coming with a similarly gaunt appearance, having lost much weight and energy and wearing a forlorn expression.  We know something is wrong and when we ask the individual they reply, "Yes, I'm suffering from depression."  All of a sudden, our reaction is far different.  We were moved with compassion for the one suffering from cancer but not now.  Instead, we feel thoughts rising up in our hearts that we would never begin to express toward the one suffering from cancer.

"It's just the devil!"

"You just aren't praying enough!"

"Just get over it!"

"Things aren't as bad in your life as you think."

"Don't worry about it.  It'll get better."

What miserable comforters we would be!  With depression on the rise both in the United States and around the world, the Church needs a better understanding of this disease and how to approach those who suffer from it.

WHAT DEPRESSION IS AND IS NOT

"The signs and symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities that were once interesting or enjoyable, including sex; loss of appetite, with weight loss, or overeating, with weight gain; loss of emotional expression (flat affect); a persistently sad, anxious, or empty mood; feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness; social withdrawal; unusual fatigue, low energy level, a feeling of being slowed down; sleep disturbance and insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping; trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; unusual restlessness or irritability; persistent physical problems such as headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain that do not respond to treatment, and thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts." (Source: MedicineNet.com)

Depression is...
1) ...a disease.  It is not simply "feeling blue" for a day or two.  It is an ongoing condition which, without treatment, grows and ravages its victim like any other disease.

2) ...aggressive.  It does not go away on its own nor does it naturally diminish.  It works subtly often overwhelming its victim before they are completely aware of what is happening to them.

3) ...real.  It is not the figment of someone's imagination.  Because of this, one does not simply "get over it" anymore than you can simply "get over" cancer, heart disease, diabetes or any other disease.

4) ...common.  Approximately 7% of Americans annually suffer from a bout of depression great enough to be considered "clinical" or, in other words, a diagnosable psychological event or disorder.  Most will not seek qualified help.

5) ...a growing problem.  Approximately 11% of adolescents, 30% of college aged individuals and 10% of seniors will experience a bout of depression.  Most will not seek qualified help.

Depression is not...
1) ...always a spiritual problem.  As we will show in the following section, depression can be caused by a number of things which are absolutely not spiritual in nature.  While depression CAN have a spiritual root that is not always the case.

2) ...relenting.  Once depression sets in it must be recognized, investigated and addressed.  Ignoring it does not solve it.

3) ...imaginary.  While some people, especially the very young and very old, may feign depression or throw around the phrase "I'm depressed" very loosely for the sake of gaining attention, this is not always the case.

4) ...uncommon.  An individual is not a "freak" because they are suffering from depression.  They are one of almost 1/2 billion people worldwide annually wrestling with the disease.

5) ...to be ignored.  After cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause of death.  Presently, the suicide rate in the United States is the highest it has been since 1986 with an individual taking their own life every 12.8 minutes.  Depression is the most common cause.

THE CAUSES OF DEPRESSION

We should first understand that there is no single "cause" of depression.  Researchers tell us that depression can be caused by:
  • Side effects of common prescription medications. 
  • Diet.
  • Physical activity levels.
  • Stress, overwork and burnout.
  • Overuse of electronic devices. 
  • Psychological predisposition. 
  • Byproduct of catastrophic events. 
  • Other medical conditions. 
  • Past or present substance abuse. 
  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse. 
  • Spiritual conflict.
  • Demonic oppression/possession.
Notice the list above contains 12 items only two of which are directly spiritual in nature.  It is not our assertion, neither the assertion of the majority body of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health workers both secular and Christian, to say that depression is NEVER a spiritual problem.  Rather, it is well acknowledged that it CAN be a spiritual problem but that is not to say that it is ALWAYS a spiritual problem.  Because it is not ALWAYS a spiritual problem, addressing the problem in terms of spirituality is not ALWAYS the right answer.

THE APPROPRIATE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO DEPRESSION 

Communication: The Three Pseudo-Blasphemous Words
To begin with, Christians should NEVER chastise someone for saying those three pseudo-blasphemous words, "I FEEL DEPRESSED."  A good rule of thumb:  "If you wouldn't say it to a cancer patient, don't say it to someone who is depressed."  A Christian especially knows how uttering those three words will normally be received.  They will be glared at, criticized, dragged to an altar, prayed over incessantly and, when they still feel depressed the next day, the aforementioned treatment plan will escalate.  Take the hint.  When a person, knowing the potential consequences, says they feel depressed that's the time to listen.  Do not pry or become a nosy busybody but, as the individual opens the door, walk WITH THEM down the corridors of their heart with compassion and empathy.

Inclusion: Be Willing To Be A Joint-Participator Yes, the depressed Christian should pray more.  But, believe it or not, they already know that and don't need your reminder.  What would be helpful is volunteering to visit the depressed and have times of prayer with them in their homes.  These times should not "focus" on the subject of depression but, rather, demonstrate Christian fellowship and the love of Christ.  Yes, a depressed person should try to get out of seclusion as much as possible.  But, believe it or not, they already know that and often only need someone to go with them to do things.  Loneliness and isolation feed depression but the depressed seldom ever leave those states by themselves.  Gently guiding them out of their prison by becoming a joint-participator with them in life can often do the trick.

Openness: Accept That Some Diseases Need A Doctor
The Almighty God is well able to heal all diseases.  Sometimes He chooses to do so through qualified medical professionals.  We must be open to the fact that the depression might be caused a simple chemical imbalance which, through proper treatment, can be corrected.  Perhaps it is a symptom of a latent disease.  There are numerous causes of depression which are not going to be cured by "casting a devil" out of someone.  It just might be that God has chosen healing for that individual who is suffering from the genuine medical condition of depression through the means of conventional medical treatment.  This is especially the case if someone is depressed to the point of suicidal.  Encouraging and even initiating the intervention of a qualified medical professional at that point is an extremely compassionate Christian response.

Compassion: Putting Yourself In Their Shoes
Job's complaint against his comforters was, among other things, their lack of empathy.  They absolutely couldn't put themselves in his shoes.  They couldn't consider how they would feel if they were in his position.  Job had a legitimate reason for depression.  Catastrophic events + spousal emotional abuse + physical illness + spiritual conflict = Job's condition.  Only an absolutely idiot would have looked at Job and said, "Just get over it."  It should also be noted that it was the work of Satan and God that brought about the calamities against Job but Job was NOT demonically possessed nor was his condition the result of a spiritual problem.  His "comforters" could only find one answer for Job and it was the "just get over it" type response.  It was Job's fault.  Job was to blame for Job's condition.  How ignorant they were!  They were incapable of compassion.  Are we?

Empathy: No, You Probably Don't Understand
We are often guilty of looking at a suffering person and telling them, "I understand."  Even if we think we do the reality is that we probably don't understand.  In fact, because every person's situation is somewhat different, the best we can hope for is empathy which is sufficient.  An understanding of the individual's struggle is not necessary nor is that something the individual requires us to have before we can help them in their battle with depression.  Looking at a depressed person and saying, "I understand" or "I know just how you feel" is almost always an immediate closure of any door of opportunity we might have to reach out to them because their immediate internal response is, "NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!"  Rather than trying to get a depressed person to believe we "understand" what they are going through, let us endeavor to feel their pain and thereby discover the treatable cause.

Mercy: Grace That Is Greater Than The "Sin" Of Depression
Being able to extend mercy to the depressed is a virtue that too few Christians possess.  How will we treat the depressed individual after they realize their cure lies in medical treatment?  Will we look down on them because they had to go to a doctor and be prescribed a pill to correct the condition causing their depression?  Will we chastise them as their condition improves after sessions with a counselor?  Will we question their spirituality?  Their sincerity?  Their faith in God?  If so, let us ask ourselves a few questions.  For example, would we look down on the cancer patient for accepting chemotherapy?  Will we chastise the diabetic because their condition was improved by a doctor's intervention?  Will we question the spirituality, sincerity and faith of a Saint of God who, because of a weakened heart, requires a pacemaker in order to live out the rest of their life?  Mercy must be extended in equal measure to the one who is suffering with depression.

IF YOU ARE DEPRESSED 

If you are suffering from depression, you are not alone.  If you are a Christian suffering from depression, you are not automatically a backslidden, devil-possessed reprobate.  It may be that your sickness is just that - a sickness.  There is a chance that your depression could be cured by making some simple lifestyle changes (becoming more active, staying away from home more, changing your diet, exercising, etc.).  It might be that you are having emotional difficulty because of past experiences and abuses.  It is also possible that you have a medical condition which is causing the depression.  Regardless, if you are depressed you need to identify it, accept it and proactively work to control it and overcome it...and you need to do it NOW!

You do not HAVE to lose the battle with depression.
You do not HAVE to accept that life will always be this way.
You do not HAVE to continue fighting without the tools you need to win.
You do not HAVE to spend more years walking in a dark cloud.
You do not HAVE to sacrifice your life to the control of depression.

But, whatever you do, get help NOW.  There are avenues available to you such as certified and licensed Christian counselors (Dr. Daniel Blash - www.bcahelps.com, Beth D. Baus  - www.ourhealthyfamilies.org, Dr. and Mrs. Billy Bates - www.biblicalapostolic.com).  Do not delay your own recovery because of fear of what others will say about the steps you take.  Ultimately, you must live inside your own skin and your own mind.  It is your battle.  Some will not understand and will criticize you for seeking help.  Ignore them.  You life may depend on it.

IF YOU ARE HAVING THOUGHTS OF SELF-HARM OR SUICIDE CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.  DO NOT WAIT.

NOTE:  I admit that I am not a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist or mental health professional and, because of that, some will reject this writing.  But I will also openly admit that I am an individual who has suffered from depression for many years and, praise be to God, am still an overcomer.  This article is written from my inside perspective and after conducting dozens of interviews with those who, like me, have suffered from depression as well as licensed, certified and qualified mental health professionals and doctors.  It is on that basis that I submit this work for review.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Ricochet

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."  - Matthew 12:36 (ESV)

A few years ago a man in an American Atlantic Coast State was walking down the road of his rural neighborhood over the Independence Day holiday when he was struck suddenly by a bullet.  The bullet made contact with deadly accuracy and the man lost his life.  The fatal shot had been fired from several hundred yards away by a target shooter who had failed to secure an adequate backstop.  The bullet went through the paper target, ricocheted off the top of the embankment and, maintaining a modified trajectory, entered the body of an innocent man.  

The incident resulted in a child losing her father, a wife losing her husband and a careless shooter losing his freedom.  The shooter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in accordance with the statue of his state.  Involuntary manslaughter was not considered an accurate charge because the shooter failed to take several proper precautions which could be interpreted as a disregard for human life.  The moral of the story is simple: When you fire a weapon you are responsible for the projectile until the point at which it stops moving.  

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the 19th century American poet, wrote, "I shot an arrow in the air.  It fell to earth, I knew not where." Such a free-spirited thought can be romanticized but, in real life, is considered gross negligence.  Human beings are not exempted from the damages caused by their negligence.  In the case mentioned above, the negligence did not start when the bullet was fired.  It was a step by step disregard for the safety of others.  First, the paper target was placed without proper backing to stop or slow the bullet.  Second, the shooter placed the target in the direction of a public road.  Third, the backstop was not tall enough, angled correctly or made of the correct material to stop the bullet once it passed through the target.  Fourth, the weapon fired was of too great of a caliber for the quality of the backstop.  

All of these factors added together to create a situation where, once the trigger was pulled, a ricochet occurred resulting in a fatality.  A ricochet may be defined as, "
the motion of an object or a projectile in rebounding or deflecting one or more times from the surface over which it is passing or against which it hits a glancing blow."  And if it were only bullets, arrows and other projectiles that were subject to ricochet the world would be a much safer place.  Unfortunately, there are other things governed by the ricochet effect.

Words, for example.  A word can cut sharper than a sword, pierce more deeply than a bullet and prove more fatal than military grade weaponry.  The Apostle James said that the tongue was a very small flame that could kindle a great fire (see James 3:5 NASB).  And when we set those words in motion, we have little to no control over where they will land.  A word of gossip spoken in "confidence" may well end up striking the heart of an innocent bystander.  A harsh word of undeserved criticism or critique may be intended to wound the ego but may, in fact, mortally wound the soul.  Before launching the projectile of a word or phrase from our mouths, should we not take care to make sure we are not negligent in where it might land?  Furthermore, is it not incumbent upon us as Christians to always guard our words lest they ricochet and have unexpected consequences?  (see Colossians 4:6).  


Actions as well may ricochet.  A harsh action against a spouse witnessed by a child can leave wounds in the psyche that are often insurmountable.  Dishonesty.  Treachery.  Doublemindedness.  Unfaithfulness.  All of these things are not only damaging to the individuals but innocent bystanders may be negatively impacted by them as well.  This is especially so with the impressionable: children, young people, etc.  It is difficult to nearly impossible for a child to live faithfully, honestly and uprightly when the parental example is the complete opposite.  The ricochet of those actions are felt years later when the child grows into adulthood and, for lack of a solid foundation, becomes a nuisance and a worthless part of society.  

Yet the ricochet can also work positively.  Is the image of a ricochet not an appropriate word picture to describe the principle taught by Christ in Matthew 5:16?  The Apostle Peter echoed this sentiment in 1 Peter 2:12 (NIV) saying, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."  The words we say and the actions we take should be so well cared for that any ricochet would only result in the bystander glorifying God because of having been hit by such an uncharacteristically godly demonstration of Christ's love and mercy.  The words of kindness and encouragement we speak  to one may well ricochet to others standing nearby.  What is more, those we encourage may carry that bullet of encouragement about in their flesh and, because we put it there, send it forward again into the suffering body of another so that they may be healed with such great and life-giving balm.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hands what you do.  Be careful little feet where you go.  It's a song taught to our children in Sunday School.  Should we not also remember that lesson as adults?  You cannot control the direction the bullet will take once it ricochets.  You can, however, control whether or not the shot is taken.  What is better: to speak or to be silent; to act or to remain static?  The answer is simple.  We should speak only when the ricochet would benefit the one impacted thereby and act only when the ricochet would cause the unintended target to glorify God.  If our words and actions do not ultimately bring glory to God they are idle, worthless, wasted and we shall be judged thereby in the end.

Mark your targets well and consider the ricochet.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

If The Christian Graves Could Speak

Dear 21st Century Christian Brethren,

Much time has passed since we walked the earth and enjoyed, in life, those riches in Christ which we now enjoy to a fuller measure in death awaiting the time of our resurrection to eternal life.  Yet, our hearts are sorrowful because of that which has been found in too many of you which we cannot readily understand.  We do not presume to have the answers.  Our sincerest hope is that our words might give you reason to pause, introspect and find the answers for yourself.

In our time there were divisions.  Our Apostle Paul wrote to your Brethren in Corinth because of their divisive behavior.  But we were all encouraged to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There were differences among us.  Some of us ate meat while others were repulsed at the thought of it.  But we were warned by the Holy Spirit not to judge one another and divide based on those things.  If we were to divide it would be over issues of heresy and the perversion of absolute truth.  But we see in you an eagerness to divide.  It is as if the smallest of issues is sufficient to drive a wedge between you and your Brethren.  How can this be?

In our time there were leadership struggles.  Once our Apostles Peter and Paul had a conflict.  The reason for it was somewhat trivial but, at the same time, an incident with possibly far reaching repercussions.  Our leaders were demonstrating the same divisive behavior many of us had.  Paul rebuked Peter to his face.  Yet, they did not divide further.  They did not reject one another or speak of each other spitefully.  There was nothing between them but a continuation of brotherly love.  Our leaders understood that the end of disagreements was love, not discord.  But we see in you leaders who hold grudges.  Honest disagreement often brings bitter animosity.  How can this be?

In our time there were issues with backsliding.  In fact, many of our Brethren struggled with their new-found faith.  These struggles did not always end with time.  Our Galatian Brethren wrestled with relapses into Judaism.  Our Corinthian Brethren were spiritual plutocrats.  Our Ephesian Brethren lost their first love.  We all had problems, difficulties and struggles in our walk with God.  But we were strongly commanded to do everything possible to help and restore the erring.  Turning a Brother over to Satan and shunning him was a last resort.  We would rather make every effort to save one of our own than to see them become apostates.  But we see in you an eagerness to consume one another and a quickness in dismissing a Brother.  The struggling are castigated instead of restored.  How can this be?

In our time there were problems with unfaithfulness, prayerlessness and lack of zeal.  Read the letters our Apostles wrote to us and you'll see very clearly that we were far from perfect.  We had no illusions of grandeur in our own regard.  We were flawed.  We failed.  We struggled.  But we were Christians nonetheless.  We acknowledged our faults and were thankful to the Savior who loved us and cared for us as a loving Father does His children.  We had no time to condemn ourselves as we were too busy being condemned by the world around us.  And, perhaps, that's why we survived.  Perhaps what you need, dear Brethren, is some true persecution.

Perhaps if your children were being slaughtered as ours were you'd find unity far more easily.  Perhaps if you were driven from your home and your cities you'd find internal conflicts of less importance.  Perhaps if you were forced to worship in caves, caverns, tombs and sewers as we were you'd be more understanding of your Brethren who struggle with the walk with God.  Perhaps if you could be reminded of your own humanity as you suffered beating, scourging, stoning, torture, crucifixion, flaying and burning you'd acknowledge the frailty of human nature.  And, as the thought of denying your Savior and saving yourself from the pain would cross your mind, perhaps then you'd think less of your own supposed perfection and more of the grace of a loving and merciful God.

Again, beloved Brethren, we do not think ourselves superior nor do we presume to be able to fix those conditions which both abounded in us and in you.  All we would hope to accomplish is to remind you that you are not alone in your struggles.  Your Brethren across the ages have likewise fought.  Some have gained victory while others have made shipwreck.  How it shall end for you is completely up to you.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the precious fellowship of the Holy Spirit comfort and keep you now and forever.

Your Brethren,

The 1st Century Christians

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Church Kid...It's Time We Had A Talk


Editor's Note:  This article was written by my wife, Sis. Elaine Hood, from the perspective of a generational Christian as well as a tenured Sunday School Teacher, Children's Church Instructor and Youth Leader.  The points here outlined are articulated, and perhaps far better, by someone who has the experience of growing up in the Church from birth as well as being the child of a preacher.  While the target audience for this article is those who have been raised in the Church, especially young people, the lessons herein are applicable to all Christians.  

By: Elaine Hood

I was privileged to grow up in church and it's a blessing I don’t take lightly.  It afforded me some benefits many of those who come into truth later don’t have.  But along with the blessings came some hindrances that often go overlooked.  There were things everyone assumed I knew and experiences we all thought I had that, in reality, I was lacking.  In working with young people through the years I have concluded that I was not alone.  There are a lot of things we very intentionally teach new converts that we assume our church kids are picking up as they go along.  There are also some experiences new converts will have simply because everything is so new to them that our church kids end up bypassing.  Please allow me to share a few of the things I had to learn the “hard way”, and maybe in doing so it will help a young person somewhere  build a more solid foundation.

1.  You are not born loving Jesus.  Just because your first sentence was “I wu Dedu” (AKA:  I love Jesus) doesn’t mean you really do.  You have to fall in love with Him just like the new convert.  There really is a place that you love Him.  It’s a feeling, an emotion, something very real.  So many times we grow up saying, “I love you, Jesus” and we fail to realize that loving Jesus is as real as loving the man/woman we plan to marry.  It’s an exhilarating, totally amazing feeling – and you need to reach that place in your relationship with Him.  And for the record, having the Holy Ghost doesn’t guarantee loving Him…if you repented and got baptized in Jesus name then you were eligible for the Holy Ghost – you didn’t have to love Him.  Ask the Lord to help you fall in love with Him…because being in love will make everything else about living for God infinitely easier and more enjoyable.

2.  Just because you grew up knowing there is one God and His name is Jesus does not mean you don’t need a revelation of the oneness.  It’s more than just making up your mind, “I believe there is one God and nobody will change that.”  It’s a definite time when it all clicks, the scriptures become abundantly and unquestionably clear, and you begin to see all the little ways the Word of God confirms that there is only one God.  When it happens you are going to get excited about it and be just as amazed as the new convert.  You are going to come to church shouting and dancing about it.  You are going to want to tell the whole world. You need this experience, because it will become an anchor point in your faith.

3.  Our holiness standards are not just to make the annoying kid next to you in algebra ask why you don’t cut your hair 14 times before the end of the school year.  You need to understand both the protection outward holiness provides and the scriptures behind it.  When you understand those two things you will find it much easier to abide by the things God has asked of us.

4.  You are NOT immune to backsliding.  Every time you hear a sermon on dedicating your life to God, go dedicate your life to God.  Trust me, when you hit the end of your rope and think you can’t make it through another day, all those altar calls with tears pouring down your face telling God you will give Him your all kick in to help you tie the knot in the rope and hang on. Incidentally, this doesn’t stop when you become an adult – we never get done reminding ourselves and God that we are totally committed to Him.

5.  Just because you have had the Holy Ghost for 6 years doesn’t mean you will never have the experience of running to an altar knowing that if you die before you pray back through you are going to hell.  Don’t hesitate to go.  We’ve all been there and we will all be there again. And if you will forgive a short rabbit trail, just automatically go to the altar EVERY SERVICE.  Then nobody wonders why you went to the altar when you are struggling, and you won’t have an internal debate about whether or not to go.

6.  Prayer is not something you automatically know how to do.  I know this sounds horrible, but you really need to eavesdrop on some prayers.  I don’t mean stick your ear by a closed door and snoop, but go to the prayer room and listen to some old, seasoned saints as they touch God.

7.  Knowing the basic doctrine doesn’t mean you know the scriptural basis for that doctrine.  Many of us have sat through a million Bible studies.  I grew up sitting on couches in strangers’ houses quietly listening as my parents taught home Bible Studies.  Pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me lesson after lesson.  So I was stunned at 16, after 5 years of teaching Sunday School, to discover I had no idea which scriptures to use to explain the plan of salvation.  Oh, I knew Acts 2:38 and I could explain Matthew 28:19, but get me past the basics and I was lost.  And of course I made this grand discovery when a friend asked me why I believed the Holy Ghost came with the evidence of tongues and why it was all necessary.  God was merciful.  About the time I started to stutter she had to get off the phone and I got a brief reprieve to grab a couple study books and a Bible and get answers.  I spent the next couple months learning how to teach the plan of salvation.  A suggestion for the wise: learn it before you unexpectedly need to teach it.  It’s vital both for your own salvation and for you to help others find truth.

8.  Ask questions…when a new convert comes in they ask questions and more questions.  Yes, some things you should know from growing up in church, but also realize that there are probably many things you have “heard” but they didn’t register because you weren’t ready or hungry for that knowledge yet.  So ask what you want to know.  We don’t think you’re dumb or backslidden or that you have zoned out for the last 13 years. We had to ask when we were ready too.

Growing up in church is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t provide any shortcuts in living for God.  The same things still have to be learned, and ultimately, the same basic experiences have to happen for someone to build a solid spiritual foundation regardless of if they were raised in church or came in from a life of drugs, alcohol and illicit living.  The ground at the foot of the cross truly is level and we all have a lot to learn about how to live for God.  So let’s join hands with our church families and help each other reach Heaven.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hymspirational Moment #6

TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY

Verse 1
Take time to be holy, speak oft with the Lord, 
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God's children; help those who are weak, 
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek. 

Verse 2
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on,
Spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be,
Thy friends in they conduct His likeness shall see.

Verse 3
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy guide,
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow thy Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.

Verse 4
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul, 
Each tho't and each motive, beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.

Holiness.  So misunderstood.  For some it is declared as a list of rules to be obeyed while, for others, it is a state imputed requiring nothing of the recipient.  Biblically speaking, holiness is the state of being separated unto God.  The holy life is a life which ceases to be its own and finds contentment in sacrificing self-will on the altar of confidence.  It is a state of being which includes a change of actions, attitudes and motives as a reaction of appreciation for the dispensation of grace.

Take time to be holy.  It is not a casual pursuit.  As the world rushes on, a Christian must slow down and find good fellowship in the hovering presence of the Holy Spirit.  An individual must purpose daily to put to death the selfish desires which guide the carnal man and, in their place, exalt the will of God.  That investment of time begins with prayer.  Speak often to the Lord in a secret place with Jesus alone.  Through out time of devotional prayer and conversation with Christ we will begin to reflect His nature as a product of our nearness.  Without prayer, true holiness is an impossibility.

From the prayer closet we must pass by the study desk.  The Word of God must become of more importance than our daily bread.  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.  Faith produces action which is sustained by confidence.  All of it is rooted in the Word.  How can we trust in that which we do not know?  And how can we know the Word without spending time digging through its sacred pages earnestly seeking the great spiritual treasure buried within?

Whether in the prayer closet, the study or in the world beyond our front door, the one pursuing holiness must be a follower of Christ.  The Spirit must be allowed to lead.  No matter what happens in life, be it great sorrow or joy, follow the Lord and do not attempt to run ahead of Him.  In doing so others shall see the likeness of Christ in you and be drawn to your Heavenly Father.

Make friends of God's children and help those who are week.  Maintaining a lifestyle committed to holiness is far easier in the company of like-minded Believers.  Isolation breeds foul spirits, discouragement and a skewed perspective.  Because of the loneliness a Christian might feel as a result of their decision to follow Christ, fellowship with fellow Christians is a necessity.  Furthermore, by helping those that are week, sick, shut-in and otherwise destitute the nature of Christ is reflected.  True religion, according to Apostle James, includes visiting widows and orphans in their affliction.

In the end, we will be prepared to walk into eternity as servants of God.  And, as faithful servants of the Lamb, we shall receive the great inheritance of eternal sonship along side the Almighty Father.  Take time to be holy and, in eternity, you will find that it was time very well spent.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015

One Year of The Bruised Reed Blog


This blog began because of the encouragement of a few individuals.  Throughout the past year, God has used it in ways that I never would have imagined.  The Bruised Reed Blog is being read by 5,491 users in 951 cities in 90 nations around the world.  The purpose remains the same:  Reaching the world with messages of truth learned in the school of brokenness.   

I would like to thank a few special people who have been instrumental in pushing this blog forward:  Sister Maxine Locklear of Menard, Texas who has consistently encouraged me to write, Pastor Ron Townsley of Princeton, Illinois who told me, "If you ever throw anything you write away, make sure I'm your trash can", Missionary Tim Joiner of Belize, Central America who has rained more praise on my writing ability than I ever deserved, Pastor Kevin Archer of Hollywood, Florida who has reminded me of the need for Apostolic writers in our time and, last but not least, my wife Elaine who, as a scholar in her own right, is my most trusted editor and, as the love of my life, my most ardent supporter.

To all of you who continue to read and share the content of this website, thank you for being a part of what the Lord is doing through The Bruised Reed Blog.  I look forward to what the next year holds in store!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

God Uses Consequences

"When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother's womb.” And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again." - Numbers 12:10-15 (ESV)

Aaron and Miriam, two individuals who had been called of God along side Moses to bring about the deliverance of the Hebrews and guide them in the wilderness, were now walking in the footsteps of rebels.  They were offended because of the interracial marriage of Moses and, emboldened with pride and contentiousness, rose up in opposition of the Prophet of God.  As a result, God called all three of them into His presence and there pronounced judgment against the offending parties.

For whatever reason, God caused leprosy to strike Miriam because of her rebellion while not so afflicting Aaron.  Why one was punished so severely while the other was not is not given to us to know but, trusting in the righteousness of God, we can only assume that there was a greater level of culpability in Miriam's case.  When they saw that her skin was turned as white as snow Aaron and Moses both cried out to the Lord to heal her immediately that the leprosy would not be allowed to continue.

The Lord's reply was, in essence, "If her father had only spit in her face she'd be unclean seven days.  She's unclean.  Put her out of the camp for seven days just like all the other lepers."  In other words, "Moses and Aaron you've got to realize that there are consequences for actions.  Please don't ask me to suspend the consequence.  There is a lesson to be learned here and Miriam and my people must learn it."  It may appear that God was being heartless but, in fact, He was attempting to be merciful.  Just perhaps those who would witness that the Almighty God was unwilling to spare even His called and chosen leaders from the consequences of their sinful behavior would be sufficient to persuade others to maintain moral rectitude.  Not only that, but it would teach Miriam a personal lesson in the consequences of sin.

In reading the passage in Numbers 12 I was reminded of an elder Sister who once testified about the return of her wayward son to Christ.  When her son decided to stop following Christ and, instead, follow a life of gross sin and rebellion, she began praying for him daily that God would protect and save him.  The son went on in sin with no sign of returning to God.  One night the Sister prayed again saying, "Lord, please protect and save my son."  The Lord answered her, "I CAN PROTECT HIM OR SAVE HIM BUT I CAN'T DO BOTH."

Soon the mother realized what the Lord was saying.  It was not that it was impossible for the Lord to both protect and save but, rather, that the hand of Divine protection shielding the son as a result of the mother's prayers was a hindrance to the means by which salvation might be brought about.  The mother stopped praying for protection and, instead, began to plead, "Lord, I trust you with my son.  Do whatever you must that he might be saved."  Not long thereafter, the son's life was turned upside down.  In time, he ran back to God and was reconciled.  He continued to faithfully follow Christ thereafter much to the joy of his mother.

The moral of the story is simple:  You must trust God enough to allow those you love to face the consequences of their actions.  It's not right to always bail your loved ones out of their consequences.  In fact, in doing so, you might be hindering their ability to reconcile to God.  Parents never want to see their children suffer but some children turn into rebellious adults because they were never allowed to fall in their childhood.  Young people need to know that there are consequences for sin in particular and consequences in life in general.  How will they learn if we constantly shield them from the results of their own bad actions?

Hebrews 12:6-11 gives us the mind of God in regard to the subject at hand.

"For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

Consequences are the natural instrument created by God to teach mankind so that we may share in His holiness.  When we attempt to suspend the natural "cause and effect" mechanism we are actively fighting against the means by which the Almighty would try to correct the erring.  There must come a point when we trust the Lord enough to allow Him to work through the avenue of consequences.

This is not applicable to others only.  How often do we try to circumvent the consequences of our own actions because we would rather not endure them?  What lessons are we learning when we refuse to receive the chastisement of consequences?  How strongly are we pushing against the attempts by our Father to share His holiness with us when we reject discipline?  Can we not understand that, just as a natural father uses consequences in discipline of his children, our Heavenly Father so corrects His children?

God uses consequences.  We should not shelter children and young people from them.  They must learn that life is hard and actions have reactions.  We should not shelter ourselves from consequences.  Through enduring the hardship of correction which is painful for a season we will receive the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Consequences are training for life and one who is habitually "skipping class" will soon find himself in a self-destructive pattern of living.

Saint of God, perhaps it is time to take your hand off your loved ones and stop praying for God to protect them from the consequences of their actions.  It just might be that you are being a hindrance and praying in a manner discordant to the will of God.  Furthermore, in your own life, accept responsibility for your actions and do not seek to escape consequences.  It is part of growing.  It is part of maturity.  God uses consequences.  It is His will.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dying For The Lack Of A Wound

"Wounding blows cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the innermost parts." - Proverbs 20:30 (WEB)

Several years ago I fell victim to a very severely ingrown toenail.  My right big toenail had ingrown on both sides, curled upward and was cutting a path through the meat of my toe.  The podiatrist had me lie down on an examination table, pulled a screen over my lap to obscure my view, sprayed my toe with a deadening agent and, with the assistance of two or three injections of local anesthetic, removed the toenail.  In the process, my toe was laid open in three distinct pieces which had to be put back together.  The wound was horrible.  The doctor bandaged my wounded toe and sent me on my way with strict orders as to what I could and couldn't do and with a followup appointment in two weeks.

Permit me a moment to focus your attention away from the details of the operation and on to that which caused it to become necessary.  It was brought about by my own negligence.  Several months earlier I had noticed a pain in my toe and some inflammation.  Rather than tending to it early on I waited with the false hope that it would eventually improve over time.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, the condition only grew worse to the point that I could hardly stand to walk.  I could blame no one but myself for the state I was in and, yet, I felt sorry for myself.  Truthfully, I had no right to.  I was my own worst enemy in the situation.

The day of reckoning came when, while out shopping with my best friend, his foot found its way onto the top of my toe.  Even from over five feet above the area of impact my ears could clearly discern the distinct sound of a squish.  When I arrived home the whiteness of the sock was cut through with the brightness of bloodstains.  It was time to go to someone with the ability to do more to help me than what I could do for myself.  The doctor examined my toe and informed me that the infection was severe enough that, had it been allowed to go further, could have cost me my toe, foot, leg or possibly my life.  I didn't want the wound the doctor would inflict upon me but I could have died without it.

From this experience several great life lessons were learned.  First of all, the time to address a bad situation is before it gets worse.  Why I didn't was a blend of fear of the unknown combined with human nature.  I was afraid to have a doctor look at the toe for fear of what must be done to fix it.  Furthermore, I was already in pain and was in no mood to be lectured about my negligence.  Is that not exactly what we do with our spiritual conditions?  We delay yielding ourselves to God for fear of what must be done in order to make right what we have made wrong.  Furthermore, our sinful human nature does not desire to hear that we have done wrong.  Oftentimes we would rather suffer the pain than admit we are responsible for it.

Secondly, I learned that others have the ability to hurt you and get you to a point you would not otherwise choose to go to.  I had no intention of visiting a doctor until my friend decided to walk on my toe.  My friend hurt me badly but, in reality, I couldn't be angry with him.  The pain was more because of my negligence than because of his action.  I ignored the injury.  I delayed treatment.  I refused to accept responsibility.  While it is true that he stepped on the toe, it would not have been an issue had I not already allowed it to become the infected mess it was.  The influence of a friend, who had no intention of hurting me, brought me to the point where I was willing to get help.  As human beings there are times when we will be hurt by our interactions with people because of the choices we have made.  Our response to those hurts will either be withdrawal or, what is better, an earnest plea for help.

Thirdly, I learned that there are times when we must look for someone outside of ourselves to help us.  Contrary to the teachings of many "self-help" authors, there is was nothing inside of me which was able to rectify my ingrown toenail.  I suppose I could have taken a pair of pliers and, with manly bravado, ripped the toenail from my toe and simply dealt with the consequences.  If the ignorance of that suggestion is not obvious then there is no way I could explain it.  I had to have someone who knew what they were doing to remove the toenail and provide me with treatment and instructions to ensure my proper healing.  The application here is almost too obvious to expound upon.  We do not like to be told what to do.  We like to live our own lives, make our own decisions and blaze our own trails.  But there does come a point where we cannot help ourselves and that point is in addressing the problem of sin in our lives.  We must look outside of ourselves to One who can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and humbly accept His instructions, keep them faithfully and accept the healing that will come thereafter.

But these were not the only lessons I learned.  The last great life lesson came from the followup appointment a couple of weeks later.  I laid back on the same exam table as before.  My lap was covered with the same screen, my toe sprayed with the same numbing agent and the same needles plunged into my toe as before.  The screen was removed and I looked at my toe.  It looked just as horrible as it did on the day when the doctor removed the toenail.  I was angry and confused.  I had seen the toe heal.  It was almost completely well.  The toenail had begun to grow out again and there was an obvious path of return to normalcy.  At least that is what I saw.

What I didn't know was that the toe was healing from the outside which was, unfortunately, incorrect.  The wound had to heal from the inside and, because of this, the doctor had to preform a procedure called debridement.  The tissue which had grown over the wound had to be removed so that I could actually heal.  I thought I was healing but I really wasn't.  And, just as I could have died from the infection had I refused the original wounding of the physician, I could have died had I not allowed the doctor to preform the debridement procedure and wound me again.

In this I learned what was perhaps the greatest life lesson from the entire event.  There are times we think we are healed when we really aren't.  Wounds come again and again.  We think an injury has passed and gone and then, suddenly, something will occur in our life to reopen the wound and cause us to hurt again.  Fear not.  When this happens be mindful of the words of the writer of Proverbs: "Wounding blows cleanse away evil" (Proverbs 20:30).  There are things inside of us that can only heal by the reopening of wounds.  Yes, there will come a day when the Father finally binds the wound once and for all.  Until then other wounds will come.  When they do, lift up your eyes to the Great Physician and thank Him.  If He did not care for you He would simply allow those wounds to pass by you and you would die in the infection of your soul.  But, because He allows those wounds, you can rest in faith knowing that He cares enough for you to see you hurt temporarily that you may be healed eternally.

If it must be that I face the pain of repeated injury so that some deep seated evil which would ultimately destroy me could be removed, I trust my Father to wound me.  What is more, I trust in His ability to use the wounds inflicted by others to accomplish the same task.  If I will view my wounds with this attitude, none who wound me could ever truly hurt me.  I shall always be victorious for I know my wounds are not in vain.  None of our wounds have to be in vain.  We need not fear them lest we die for the lack of a wound.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hymspirational Moment #5


WHERE JESUS IS 'TIS HEAVEN

Verse 1
Since Christ my soul from sin set free, 
This world has been a Heaven to me; 
Amid earth's sorrows and its woe, 
'Tis Heaven my Jesus here to know. 

Chorus
Oh, hallelujah, yes, 'tis Heaven,
'Tis Heaven to know my sin's forgiven;
On land or sea, what matters where?
Where Jesus is, 'tis Heaven there.

Verse 2
Once Heaven seemed a far-off place, 
Till Jesus showed His smiling face; 
Now it's begun within my soul, 
'Twill last while endless ages roll. 

Verse 3
What matters where on earth we dwell?
On mountaintop or in the dell, 
In cottage or a mansion fair, 
Where Jesus is, 'tis Heaven there.

Heaven is often seen as a place very high up and far away.  It is considered a lofty mountaintop of brightness and glory where the sun never sets, the chill of winter wind never blows and the child lives perpetually in youthful immortality.  Heaven is looked upon as the place where tears are absent, pain is abated, death is defeated and all remnants of mortality are swallowed up in the victorious transformation of state from temporal to eternal.  Such a glorious vision of a place called heaven are not unrealistic.  For the Redeemed who have had their sins washed away in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, just such a place of bliss and splendor awaits.

Yet, Christianity was never intended as a religion only for the purpose of death.  That is to say, the Master gave the promise of life eternal but also of abundant life in the present age.  One cannot help but conclude that very concept is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).  When Christ my soul from sin set free, this world has been a heaven to me.  Heaven, as the eternal state, is a remarkable place.  How much more remarkable it is that those who have been redeemed can know the joy of heaven while still on earth!  A new life, life and that more abundantly, awaits whosoever will come to Jesus Christ in contrite repentance and is born again.  

The Holy Spirit is called the "earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:22).  In other words, when the Believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, a down payment or deposit is made.  Into the heart of the child of God is a generous portion of that which, in eternity, we might call "heaven."  Once heaven seemed a far off place till Jesus showed His smiling face.  Now it's begun within my soul.  'Twill last while endless ages roll.  The Comforter has come and a portion of eternity has rested firmly in our soul!  What a blessed thought!  The earth and this life shall never look the same for, now, we may continue our journey as pilgrims with the precious Gift of God within us.

Rejoice, Chrisian!  Lift up your eyes to God but look also at the new life here on earth which you have been given in Christ Jesus!  Give thanks!  Celebrate!  Let fear, doubt, discouragement and disappointment bow before the reality of heaven in your soul!  You are now seated with Christ in heavenly places.  What matters where on earth we dwell?...Where Jesus is, 'tis heaven there.  Nothing of earth can remove the joy of eternity in your heart.  When the temporal world overwhelms you, fall back on your knees in prayerful adoration of the Eternal Almighty God and allow His Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again with waves of glory.  Heaven is real and it is close at hand.  Where Jesus is, 'tis heaven.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Things We Believe For All The Wrong Reasons

"The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)"  - Mark 7:1-4 (NASB)

Sadly, I must confess to feeling the overwhelming pressure to write a disclaimer at the beginning of this article.  Such an opening statement is not necessary for those individuals who actually know me.  But for those who don't, please indulge me in this very brief preface.  I believe, preach, teach and live the precepts of the Word of God to the best of my knowledge and ability.  Holiness, modesty and moderation have been the tripartite guidepost principle of my Christian life.  But, because of the tenor of this article and my often unfortunate understanding of human nature, it is inevitable that someone will question my motive.  Please accept that my motive is as simple as this: to stand justified in the eyes of God on my last day and to see as many others as are within my ability to influence stand likewise.

The Pharisees and scribes came to the Lord Jesus at this point in His ministry after He had already fed the multitudes, healed many sick and walked on the surface of the water.  In our modern vernacular, we would say that Jesus of Nazareth had established street credit.  He had already been rejected at His hometown of Nazareth in spite of the people marveling at His teaching in their synagogue (see Matthew 13:53-58).  Add together His teachings with His miracles (which would include the great miracle of the Resurrection) and you have the sum total of all that the Prophets said the Messiah would be.  Nevertheless, many did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Some rejected Him based upon Scriptural misconceptions (John 7:41) and others because of their presuppositions about His origin (Mark 6:3).  Then came the Pharisees and scribes with a most peculiar objection.

"Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" - Mark 7:5 (NASB)

The supernaturally inspired teaching didn't matter to them nor did the amazing miracles.  That His Disciples could vehemently attest to the fact of seeing Jesus walk across the surface of the water was immaterial.  Furthermore, the testimony of 5,000 who had been the beneficiaries of the miraculous multiplication of a few fish and bread was not to be considered.  The Pharisees and scribes couldn't see past the fact that Jesus' Disciples ate their meals without first washing their hands.  From a personal hygiene standpoint their objection was reasonable but, in this case, they were not considering hygiene at all.  Instead they found a doctrinal objection to the Disciples' actions.  In short, they had taken what could be called a "good idea" and turned it into "thus saith the Lord."  There would have been nothing wrong with the question had they asked, "Is it sanitary?," or "Isn't that a poor choice?," but this was not their motive.

Some things are poor choices but they are certainly not sinful.  And while we have the right to object to those practices on a personal level and abstain from them ourselves, we absolutely do not have the right to invoke Divine dissatisfaction over the individual's action nor to require conformity to our preference.  No matter how logical the position might be to us, God never gave any human being the right to establish His commandments outside of the mandates of inspired Scripture.  Had the Holy Spirit wanted another ordinance to be written, He would have inspired it while He was breathing out the lines of His sacred Word.  This fact didn't stop the Pharisees and scribes from invoking the oral tradition concerning various washing rituals as an objection to the leadership of Jesus Christ.  He was not following the traditions of the elders and, therefore, was unquestionably wrong.

This is not merely a matter of poor judgment on the part of the Pharisees and scribes.  Rather, it is symptomatic of a far more tragic spiritual condition.  Notice that their attitude was, "Why don't your disciples do this?," while never once stopping to ask the more important question: "WHY DO WE DO THIS?"  Obviously the Pharisees and scribes had no reason to question their own actions since they had determined beforehand that they were unquestionably right.  After all, what firmer foundation does one need to establish right and wrong than the tradition of the elders?  To try to comprehend this mindset it must first be understood that these individuals were taught that the oral traditions were as binding upon humanity as the written Law.  The Law represented that which was written by Moses while the oral traditions were those things which God said but Moses simply forgot to write down.  And while this is an obviously simplistic explanation it is nonetheless accurate.

So then, we have a group who is objecting to the leadership of Jesus based upon the actions of His Disciples which, while not in contradiction of the Law, were in violation of the oral traditions of the elders.  But, had they been pressed to present a Scripture, they very well might have done so.  They may have gone to Exodus 30:17-21 where God commanded the Levites in the Tabernacle to wash themselves and said, "See here!  Here is the principle behind why we are teaching this!"  Likewise, they may have opened their scrolls to Leviticus and pointed out any number of the examples of various legitimate washing requirements and boasted, "Obviously there is a principle here that needs to be applied to meals!"  They could have done so and, yet, they would have been absolutely wrong to teach it for doctrine as the commandment of God.  This is obvious in Jesus' response to their objection.

"And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’" - Mark 7:6-7 (NASB)

Here we see the taxonomy for the systematic theology of the Pharisees and scribes:

1. We are always right and, therefore, have no need of questioning our beliefs.
2. We do not question our traditions because our traditions are unquestionable.
3. That which offends us offends God.

The title of this article is "Things We Believe For All The Wrong Reasons."  Perhaps it would have been more fitting to title it "All The Wrong Reasons For Things We Believe" since, in truth, I am far more concerned with addressing the motive for our doctrines than the specifics of those beliefs.  The Lord Jesus was very clear in His assessment of the Pharisees and scribes:  “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”  He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition" (Mark 7:8-9 - NASB).  But there are motives for believing certain things other than those of the Pharisees and scribes as displayed in Mark 7..

Some have said, "I've always believed thus and so and, therefore, continue to embrace it."  So what?  Truthfully, the answer to this statement could stop there.  What does it matter how long you have believed something?  Does that make it true?  Slavery was the accepted practice of the British Empire from the 1600's.  Did that make William Wilberforce and the abolitionists wrong when they demanded an end to the atrocity of human trafficking in the 19th century?  Did the fact that it had been the accepted practice of the English for two centuries mean that it was right?  Absolutely not!  When something is wrong, fix it.  Swallow your pride!  Do not let it be said of us that we neglected the commandment of God to hold to the tradition of men.

Others have said, "My friends all believe this and I'll lose them if I change positions."  So what?  Is the value of temporal friendship more precious to us than eternal truth?  Is the esteem of our peers of greater importance than the approbation of God?  With whom would you rather stand: a friend who will not be at your side in 100 years or a Heavenly Father upon whom your eternity depends?  If everyone in our circle of friends believes a certain thing which the Scriptures do not support and the only way to remain in that circle is by accepting their belief, it's time to find a new circle.  At one time the consensus within the scientific community was that the earth was flat and the only way to be accepted within that community was to embrace that notion.  Does that mean that we simply turn a blind eye to the curvature of the horizon or the spherical shadow of the earth as it shades the lunar surface in eclipse and reject them because our circle would approve of us for doing so?  Do not let it be said of us that we were experts in setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep our tradition.

WE BELIEVE IT IS RIGHT...is a wrong reason to believe something.
OUR ELDERS TAUGHT IT...is a wrong reason to believe something.
IT IS OUR TRADITION...is a wrong reason to believe something.
WE CAN INTERPRET THIS PASSAGE...is a wrong reason to believe something.
THIS THING OFFENDS ME...is a wrong reason to believe something.
I'VE ALWAYS BELIEVED THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
I'VE ALWAYS TAUGHT THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
MY FRIENDS ALL BELIEVE THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
MINISTERS I FELLOWSHIP TEACH THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.

The reason to believe something is because it is written.  God did not stutter nor does He need an interpreter.  His Spirit spoke plainly in the days of the holy Prophets and Apostles and speaks clearly enough today in the hearts of Believers and points them back to THUS IT IS WRITTEN!  For those who believe otherwise, the Holy Spirit gave a clear definition of their nature through the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels..." - 1 Timothy 6:3-4 (ESV)