Part 5: The Bible (Christian But Not series)

Summary of my previous posts laying the foundation for this post:

Christian: a person who has anything to do with Christ

Disciple: a person who is totally committed to following Jesus and all He said

Jesus did not call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

Disciples give up their own truth for Jesus’ Truth

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17 

I think we would all agree we would find God’s word – truth – in the Bible.

I started to write this blog as a history and explanation of the different versions of the Bible we can find everywhere.  I spent several days researching the Bible. It was a fascinating. But that’s not where I’m supposed to go with this blog. Then I tried writing about statistics of what Christians and non-Christians believed about the Bible. Again I spent a couple days researching. But that’s not where I’m supposed to go with this blog either. As much as I love learning about the Bible’s history and translations, there are many web sites of scholars who do so much better than I ever could. And as much as I am fascinated with statistics and what people believe, there are web sites that provide that information better than I can.

And then I ran into this:

Christians use the Bible. Disciples read the Bible.

And I knew where I am supposed to go.

Christians use the Bible to support and promote their views. Disciples read the Bible to form their views.

Christians use the Bible to point fingers at others. Disciples read the Bible to point their fingers at themselves.

For Christians, opinions come first, then Scripture. For disciples, Scripture comes first, then opinions.

We all know that Christians on both sides of every issue can find something in the Bible to support their views. Many times, the scripture is taken out of context, misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misused. Hopefully the Christians doing so don’t know that they’re doing so. But sadly, there are Christians who don’t care. If they can get a scripture to justify their opinions, then they feel entitled to use it to condemn others. This is not new. It’s been happening since the first Christians. Paul had to address it to the Roman Christians.

Romans 14:14-19 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess[b] to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

In a nutshell, Some Christians were condemning other Christians for breaking the law. They used the Old Testament and years of tradition to back them up. Other Christians were condemning those who were still living under the law instead of in the freedom Christ provided. They used Paul’s letters to other churches (they didn’t have the New Testament yet, but some of the letters Paul wrote were already circulating between groups of Christians) to back up their opinion.

Galatians 4:21:26 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Galatians 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and so not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Sound familiar? Christians fighting Christians, each using the Bible to condemn the other? I could think of numerous examples just by looking at doctrinal differences between denominations. But I also see it outside the lines of denomination. One huge example is how Trump followers use the Bible to condemn Biden followers, and Biden followers use it to condemn Trump followers. Or how Republicans and Democrats are using the Bible to justify their own side and condemn the other.

Both groups are using the Bible to defend their opinions, just like those Christians in Rome. And both groups are missing the bigger picture. 

God’s message has been clear since Genesis. Love Him. Love each other. Live in peace with each other.

Matthew 22:35-40  35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Isaiah 32:15-18 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.  

Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

The Roman Christians showed in their fighting that they were using the Bible for their own agendas.

Paul, a disciple, showed that he had read the Bible and was responding using that lens. He knew the bigger picture. (Reread his letter to the Romans quoted above if you are guilty of reading familiar Scriptures like I do – skimming through them because I think I already know what they say.)

As disciples, we are not called to use the Bible. We are called to read it. How would our families, our work places, our stores, our roads, our leisure activities, our churches, our communities be different if we began reading the Bible instead of using it? If we lived as disciples instead of Christians?

I think it’s time to find out.

Part 4: Truth (Christian But Not series)

Summary of previous posts in this series:

Christian: a person who has anything to do with Christ

Disciple: a person who is totally committed to following Jesus and all He said

Jesus did not call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

Christians today, for the most part, are just that – Christians. And that causes a lot of confusion. So many beliefs. Some many values. So many behaviors. So many life styles. So many pointing fingers. Wouldn’t you think a group of people who all follow the same Man would have the same beliefs? Or at least very similar ones?  

Everyone thinks that what they believe is the truth, and most are willing to fight for their beliefs. They argue and judge and condemn others, whether done quietly behind their backs, publically on social media, or violently in riots and protests. And yes, I’m still talking about Christians.

Every Christian thinks they know the truth. Yet one person’s truth is different than another person’s truth. The culture in which we live thinks that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to live their own truth. But what happens with truths collide? What happens when your truth interferes with my truth? What do we teach our children when I believe the world is round and you believe the world is flat? I guess we could leave it up to our children to decide what they want to believe, because it’s not a life or death decision. But things can get much more complex. What if I believed people with green hair were parasitic deviants and needed to be destroyed? What if you had green hair? What if you believed your green hair made you superior? Would my truth allow me to kill you – or would your truth top my truth? Who gets to live their truth?

I did a little research hoping to learn more about truth, but closed my browser more confused than ever. There are numerous theories about what truth is, most of which made my brain hurt, but I did understand a few.

Consensus Truth: what a group of people agree on.

 Constructivist Theory: what society constructs as truth (“perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience”, Wikipedia).

 Correspondence Theory: Truth is determined by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes that world.

Even major religions have their own definitions of truth.

In Hinduism, truth is something that is unchangeable, has no distortion, goes beyond distinctions of time, space, and person, and pervades the universe. In this definition, the human body is not true because it changes over time.

In Buddhism, truth is divided into relative/conventional truth and ultimate/absolute truth. Relative truth is based on common understanding, while ultimate truth “transcends logic in the sphere of ordinary experience, and recognized such phenomena as illusory”. I’m not sure I know what that really means. But I understood the example given – political law is relative while religious law is absolute.

My conclusion? The truth about truth is that no one really knows or agrees on what it is. Again, everyone has their theory, but their theories disagree with each other. And thus the confusion we see all around us as people claim their own truths to be the Truth to support their views and behavior.

How does a community function with so many conflicting truths? How do we as members of the Christian church work this out? I don’t think we can. With as many truths as there are groups of people, clashes are unavoidable. It’s not like we can all agree to disagree and move on with our lives. Too many of those truths are incompatible with other truths. They simple can’t co-exist. For example, abortion. We can’t both legalize it and illegalize it. Someone’s truth must rise above the other, or the fighting will never end.

I don’t have the answer (just in case you’re wondering).

But I know someone who does.

Jesus wasn’t confused. He knew truth – because He was the Truth.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I know for non-Christians, this is just one more truth theory. However, for Christians this should settle most disputes. But Christian doesn’t mean much anymore. Christians disagree with each other, and they even disagree with Jesus. (That makes my brain hurt too.)

However, disciples are different. Disciples are the ones who have voluntarily committed to following Jesus and ALL that He said. Not just what they agree with. Not just what makes sense to them. Not just what is convenient. Not just what lines up with or fits into their corner of American culture. As disciples, they have given themselves completely to the teachings of Jesus, giving up their opinions for His.

In other words, disciples have given up their truths for His Truth. So must we if we want to answer His call to be His disciples. Whatever doesn’t match with what He says, we must toss away. Jesus’ Truth is absolute. Unchangeable. Without distortion. Outside of times and places. (kind of like the Hindus believe). His Truth is Truth for all and for always. No more confusion. No more debates. No more fights. We will be free from all that. In fact He said in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

So I guess maybe I do have the answer after all. We Christians need to be disciples. To be what Jesus called us to be, not what we made for ourselves. We need to do things His way if we want live in peace with each other as He intended. And if we do this… if we become disciples… if we really lived every moment of our lives submissive to the His words… to accept His truth as THE TRUTH… the world would see a completely different church. The world would see what Jesus meant for us to be – the physical manifestation of His body, His hands and feet, and His heart. And maybe, just maybe, they would be drawn to the One who loved them so much He died for them.

But here’s the kicker. We can’t wait for the rest of the Christians to get on board the Disciple train as an excuse not to get on ourselves. We can’t point our fingers at them, and not point at ourselves. Jesus didn’t call groups of people when He called His first disciples. He called them one by one, and by name.

Guess what? Jesus knows your name, too. And He’s calling you. Can you hear Him? I can because He’s calling me, too.  

I think it’s time to answer Him. It’s time to accept His word as Truth; to give up our truths for His.

I know what my answer is. Do you know yours?

Part 3: What is a Disciple? (Christian But Not series)

Over the years, the name Christian has become associated with anyone who has anything to do with Christ. As long as a person professes belief in Christ, that person is considered a Christian regardless of what else he or she believes, and many times, what he or she does. That’s why Christians can be found on both sides of any controversial issue. Politics, social issues, religious views – even abortion stands. Christian can mean anything because the Bible doesn’t define it.

The good news is – we don’t have to define it because Jesus didn’t call us to be Christians. He called us to be disciples.

A disciple, according to online dictionaries, is a student or learner who adheres completely to the teachings of another, making them his rule of life and conduct. A Christian disciple is someone who fully commits to Jesus as Lord.

Some churches – some people – believe that a disciple is a Christian who had made a higher level of commitment to Jesus than other Christians. This makes it sound like there are two acceptable standards of commitment. However, Jesus only had one standard. He called us to a life of wholehearted discipleship to Him.

When we are committed, we follow Jesus’ teachings and we surrender all of our opinions to His opinions. When He is Lord we seek to live as He lived. It’s like the difference between scrambled eggs and bacon: the chicken is involved; the pig is committed.

 Jesus warned this wouldn’t be easy. He talked about the high cost of being His disciple. He warned that being His disciple would make us stand out from the world around us. He said we would be opposed, rejected, persecuted, and even put to death. He said we would be treated just like the world treated Him. And that wasn’t good.

If we’re not seeing that in our lives, maybe it’s because we’re not disciples. Maybe we have left the teachings of Jesus for the teachings of the world. We may have unknowingly – or knowingly – adopted the world’s ways, values, and beliefs as our own. We may have mixed them in with those of Jesus. We may have even completely replaced some of Jesus’ ways with them.

Why?

To indulge our own desires? Because of ignorance of God’s word? Out of fear of being labeled or judged? To avoid conflict or offense? Because it’s easier or more convenient? To fit in with those around us? To be accepted as one of the crowd?

Whatever the reason, Paul called what we have done ‘becoming friends with the world’.

James 4:4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Hard words to be sure.

Here’s a comparison between Christian (believer) and Disciple that I found on a website called davidcannistraci.org.

How are disciples different from believers?

1.  THE CROSS: Believer look to the cross. A Disciple pick up the cross(Matthew 16:22-24).

2.  OBEDIENCE: A Believer obeys God if it’s convenient. A Disciple obeys no matter the outcome.

3.  DECISIONS:ABeliever decides once, A Disciple decides daily.

4.  FOCUS: Believers focus on eternal life, A Disciple focus on eternal rewards.

5.  PRAYER: A Believer prays when things get tough. A Disciple prays no matter the circumstance.

6.  SCRIPTURE: A Believer twists the Bible to fit his or her lifestyle. A Disciple works to make his or her lifestyle resemble the teachings of the Bible.

7.  ETERNAL IMPACT: Believers make heaven.  Disciples make history.

http://www.davidcannistraci.org/news/2016/2/23/seven-ways-disciples-are-different-than-believers

I have to admit for too many of the 40+ years since I encountered Jesus, I was a Christian. I loved Jesus, and grew in my relationship with Him, but when His words were hard to follow, I chose to ignore them and lived as I thought best. He loved me, and I knew I was secure in His hands, but I chose my way over His more times than I want to remember.

I still do. Am I’m heartbroken over that.

Jesus died for me. He gave up everything for me. And yet, I only give Him what’s convenient. Is that enough? Is it enough to return my husband’s love and commitment to me with a half-hearted commitment to him?

Did God ever say that was enough?

He didn’t in the Old Testament.

Joshua 22:5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses, the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

And He didn’t in the New Testament.

Mark 12:30  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

So why do we Christians think that is enough now?


Luke 14:25-33   Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

John 15:18-21  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me

Deut 6:4-15 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.  You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

Linda’s Paraphrase: Hear, O Christians: There is only one God. Love the Him with all your heart (total commitment) and with all your soul (what you think) and with all your might (energy, focus). Keep His words foremost in your heart always. Teach them to your children. Talk about them day and night as a part of everything you do. Put up post it notes and memory cards throughout your house. And when God answers your prayers – when you are living with His blessings which you didn’t earn – be careful not to forget who gave them to you. It is God you shall fear, not man. Him and only Him shall you serve. Don’t go after the ways and loves of the world around you – for the God in you is a jealous God – lest He get angry and destroy you.

Fire in His Mouth

Leaders who are like wolves, tearing whom they may in order to get dishonest gain.

Religious leaders who profane the laws of God, not teaching right from wrong.

Prophets who say they speak for God but give lying messages instead, and often for money.

People who practice extortion, commit robbery, oppress the poor and needy, extort from immigrants without justice.

Dishonesty, disrespect for parents, cheating or oppressing aliens (immigrants), mistreatment of widows and orphans, profaning sacred things, lying, bribery, rape, incest, extramarital affairs, charging excessive interest, extortion, creating one’s own idols, shedding blood.

Ignoring God.

This is how God described Israel. Not the whole world, although they were guilty of the same behaviors, but He was talking about His people. The ones that called themselves by His name.

God sent many warnings about the need to stop; to turn around and get back to God’s ways. The Israelites didn’t accept the warnings. They didn’t change their ways. And they were destroyed.

The scary thing is… God could be saying the same things about us. Not all of America, even though there’s guilt there too, but those of us in America who call ourselves by His name. Those of us who claim to be Christians.

God has been sending us warnings for years; to turn around and get back to His ways.

Will we respond any better – or will we end up with the same fate as the Israelites?

How much longer will He give us to change? Or has He already started blowing on us with the fire of His wrath?  Could the increase in violence and turmoil in our country this year be part of it?

It’s easy for me to ignore this in my day to day life, doing my part in the corona virus war by staying home as much as possible. But complacency is never good. I was recently startled by a cloud that looked an awfully lot like the Lion of Judah with the glow of fire in his mouth. Not just startled like, “Hey, look at that.” But STARTLED like, “Oh no, He’s here!”

Ezekiel 22:21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 

I believe God is telling me it’s time for me to get serious with my writing. And if God is really speaking to me about what He’s about to do, then it’s my responsibility to share that with as many people as I can. Just like I would if I knew a hurricane was coming.

My goal is to write a series of blogs challenging us as Christians to compare how we’re living, how we think, what we do – to His word. I’m including me in the we. Are we courageous enough to examine ourselves and admit where we fall short? Are we serious enough about God to change our ways that don’t line up with His?

He certainly is serious about us.

Tell me what you think in the comments below. And let me know which specific areas you’d like to see me to cover.

Ezekiel 22:1-31 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2“And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. 3You shall say, Thus says the Lord GOD: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! 4You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time ofa your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. 5Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.

6“Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. 7Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. 8You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. 9There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. 12In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profitb and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord GOD.

13“Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. 15I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

17And the word of the LORD came to me: 18“Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. 19Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. 21I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 22As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LORD; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”

23And the word of the LORD came to me: 24“Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. 25The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. 28And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken. 29The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 30And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

2 Chronicles 7:14  if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Where is God Not?

When a person calls another person or group names expressing hatred, condemnation, and derision, God is not there.

When a person threatens another person or group with violence or vengeance, God is not there.

When a person attacks another person verbally or physically over their beliefs or opinions, God is not there.

When a person lies, repeats what they hear without checking the facts, or gossips, God is not there.

(Clarification: I know God is everywhere. So when I say “God is not there,” I don’t mean a place outside His presence. What I mean is a place where He chooses not to be involved or to abide. He says in Isaiah 1:15: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” 1 John 4:12 says “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” To me, that implies that if we don’t love one another, He doesn’t abide in us. In other words, He’s not there.)

It doesn’t matter the label:

Republican or Democrat

Conservative, Liberal, or Independent

Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian

Gay, Straight, or Both

Male, Female, or Other

Atheist, Christian, Jew, or Muslim

White, Blue, Pink, or Green Collar

Rich, Poor, or Middle Class

Baby Boomer, Millennium, Generation X, or Z

If there is hatred, bitterness, and intimidation, God is not there.

Watching the news, scrolling through social media, and listening to people as they talk, I can see just how many places God is not in our country today.

Which is understandable with all the non-believers – not excusable, but explanatory.

But it is not understandable or acceptable for those who profess to follow Jesus. 

Jesus said some hard things when He was walking the earth – to people who were living in dangerous times. Like we are today.

Things like…

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matt. 5:9) 

 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt 5:21-22)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt 5:38-41)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48)

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12)

Paul had some more words…

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing.” (Rom 2:1)

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval.” (Rom 1:1-3)

“To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud – even your own brothers.” (1 Cor 6:7-8)

Hard words. Very hard words. In our humanness, we cannot do this. But when we professed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, His Spirit came to live in our hearts enabling us to live by the spirit and not by the flesh. Enabling, nor forcing. We have to choose day by day, sometimes moment by moment, to follow His way.

If we profess to believe and follow Jesus – then we need to follow all of what He said, not just what we like or is easy. If we don’t, then how are we different than non-Christians?

Maybe we aren’t really followers at all.

Something to think about.

Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest

Matthew 11:28-29  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I love these verses.

I loved them when I was taking full course loads each semester at a university and working in my spare time to pay for them.

 I loved them when my children were little and I was teaching full time, usually having to put in an hour or two of unpaid overtime each day.

I loved them when I went back to college to pursue my master’s degree while teaching full time, raising two around-teen-age children, and serving leadership roles in several Christian groups.

I loved them when problems piled on top of each other and I saw no way out.

I loved them when the stresses of life weighed down on me while I struggled with strong PMS symptoms each month.

There was just one problem.

They didn’t seem to work for me. Spending time with Jesus didn’t make my work load lessen and I never felt rested for more than a few minutes at a time. Peace, yes. But not rested.  I did make it through – if that counts – but just barely. So I did with this scripture what I did with others I didn’t understand. I filed it under “nice idea, but confusing”, and hoped someday God would explain what He really meant.

Many years went past.

Then today I came across it again. And this time I had a light bulb moment. He’s not talking about our daily life burdens, He’s talking about religious burdens. The kind that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were putting on the people. All the dos and don’ts and rituals and ceremonies. Making sure to follow all the rules was a heavy load to carry. It still is today, if that’s what we’re trying to do.

Jesus came to show us a better way. His focus was on restoring our relationship with the Father, not in adding rituals or ceremonies. He wanted to set us free from religion so that we could enjoy our relationship with our Father. Coming from a very religious upbringing, I can testify that these verses did and still do work exactly as He said.

How did I not see this before?  How could I have read these verses for over 40 years, and never “got it”? It makes me wonder how many other verses I’ve taken out of context over the years. Maybe it’s time to reread the New Testament, this time not skimming past the familiar verses I think I know, but really looking at them in context.

I bet I’ll find enough to write a book.

And maybe I’ll do just that.

Idols by Any Other Name

Sighing, I continued my physical therapy exercises as the You Tube video I was watching was interrupted by yet another ad. Usually I tune out the ads, but something in this one caught my attention. I stopped moving and stared at the tiny screen on my phone.

A young beautiful woman was talking about her abusive past, and that she had found something that helped her overcome it.

Was it Jesus? I had never seen a testimonial ad on You Tube. I continued watching.

She got a good job, was able to save money, and even travel. And she was so thankful. This something had turned her life around.

Was it Jesus? Sure sounded like it. I waited for her to give Him the glory.

Then somehow she lost that something. Everything in her life fell apart. She lost her job, her home, and her happiness. One day a friend led her back to that something, and again her life was restored. And now she wanted to tell the world about it.

About Jesus? I was ready to celebrate with her, but…

Nope. It wasn’t about Jesus at all.

It was about… a bracelet.

A very special bracelet, infused with good energy by specific rituals, and accompanied by clear directions on how to wear it (make sure you touch it frequently to… what?… show it your faith?) and what not to do with it. She attributed all her well-being to this bracelet, and all her problems to having lost it. It even had a name.

I was floored.

Here in America, we don’t worship man-made objects, right? I mean, in this country we can’t just go to the market and buy a god or two. We (Westernized Christians) generally think of idols as pride, wealth, or status. But what if we’re wrong? What if idols actually mean idols? And what if we are as full of them in the Church today as the Israelites were in the Old Testament? As Christ-followers, we have been commanded to seek all our needs from God, to look only to Him. If we seek joy, prosperity, health, wisdom, peace, safety or anything else from anything other than our Father, how is that any different than what the Israelites were doing? And if we are as guilty of idolatry as they were, regardless of what we call our idols (good luck charms, energy stones, and healing crystals, among others), then aren’t we as much in danger of judgment today as the Israelites were back in their day? God is still a jealous God, and will not share His glory with another. We have been warned numerous times.

Let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s be like Josiah, the king in 2 Kings 23. Let’s examine ourselves and our stuff and get rid of any idols we may have, before our Father has to come down here and do it for us. Then we can enjoy his blessings instead of facing his judgment.


Deut 7:25-26 The carved images of their gods you shall burn with fire. You shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them or take if for yourselves, lest you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.

2 Kings 23:24-25  Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had found in the house of the LORD. Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.

2 Cor 6:16  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will  make my dwelling among them and walk among them and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.

Number Game

Me: “Where’s the 3?”

My granddaughter: (points to the 3)

“That’s right! Where’s the 5?”

(points to the 5)

“Right again! And where’s the 2?”

(points to a 4)

“No, that’s a 4. Here’s the 2.”

(smiles)

“What’s this number?” I point to a 4.

“4”

“Right! What about this one?” I point to a 1.

(no answer)

“It’s a 1. Can you say 1?”

(smiles and looks down)

“Okay, what’s this number?” I point to a 5.

“5”

“Right! And what’s this number?” I point to a 2.

“3”

“No, it’s a 2. What is it?”

(smiles and looks down)

“Okay, what’s this number?” I point to a 3.

“3”

“Right. And what’s this number?” I point to a 5.

“5”

“Right. And what’s this number?” I point to a 4.

“4”

“Right. You’re so smart! What’s this number?” I point to a 1.

(no answer)

“It’s a 1. What about this one?” I point to a 2.

“8”

“No, it’s a two.”

(smiles and looks away)

“What’s this number?” I point to the 2 again.

(knocks it off the fridge)

“Time to play another game?”

“Yes.”

And off we go.

Later I got to thinking about this number game. Why was my two year old granddaughter able to identify the numerals 3-5 so well, but just couldn’t seem to get 1 or 2?

Then I figured it out!

From birth she has always striven to be older than she was. Now that she’s passed her first and second birthdays, those two numbers don’t matter anymore. She’s older than them (or so she thinks) so they aren’t worth her time. Her interest in the higher numbers, the ones she will be one day, reveals that she’s focused on where she’s going, not where she’s been. In other words… forget the past; the future is what’s important.

It reminds me of what Paul said to the Philippians: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)

If that number game is any indication, my granddaughter has this mastered.

I’m a Pom Pom (Romans 12)

(for those who don’t know… these are pom poms. The solid orange one is what it looks like before it’s trimmed. The others have been trimmed.)

Prologue:

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us that while we still sinners, Christ died for us.

When I first met Jesus, I was like that solid orange pom pom. My heart and my life were a mess and falling apart. But just like the pom pom maker tied a string around the center of each pom pom to keep the strands of yarn together, Jesus tied Himself around the center of my heart, keeping me together.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

A pom pom is made to serve a purpose.

So was I.

And now Romans…

Verse 1:  I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

A pom pom is completely subject to its maker. It has no will of its own.

However, God created me with free will. Therefore He waits for me to present myself to Him as a living sacrifice. That means I give up my rights, my wants, my opinions, my stuff – and place myself completely in His hand.

Verse 2: Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

That messed up orange pom pom looks more like the skein of yarn it came from than a finished pom pom. In order to get it to a more pleasing and usable shape, much yarn has to be trimmed of.

I was no different. I looked, thought, and acted just like the world in which I came out of.  Those worldly ways needed to be trimmed in order to make me into a more pleasing and usable person for God.

Verse 3: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Once trimmed, the pom pom looks so incredibly better that it might be tempted to believe it has become the most beautiful of all pom poms. But that might just cause the others to raise their eyebrows at it. If you look closely in the picture, the pom poms each have some defects. Strands sticking out here or there, or misshapen in some places, none of them are perfect.

I, too, am soooo much better than I used to be, and if I’m not careful, I could start thinking I’m better than I really am, especially when I compare myself to people who haven’t been trimmed as much. I know I still have parts that need to be trimmed and rounded. Thinking soberly, or rationally, about myself, I know I am no better or worse than any other person.

Verse 4: For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function,

Some pom poms are made to be sewn on clothes, bags, or key chains. Others are made to be tossed around by a two-year old…

Likewise, I, being part of a body of many members, have a different function than the others. It might be similar to someone else’s but most like will not be identical.

Verse 5: so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Although there are many different pom poms, they are all part of the group their maker made.

I, along with all the other Christians, form one body, and as a member, I have a responsibility to the other members.

Verse 6: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;

None of the pom poms were given exactly the same strands. Some have the same colors, but in different arrangements; some were given more unique colors; and one was given only one color. But all are as they were designed to be.

My spiritual gifts differ from gifts given to others in the body. And how I use those gifts also differ. One such gift given to me, a prophetic gift, is much different than what is generally thought of when thinking about a prophet. I don’t prophecy over others, nor do I predict the future. But I can see what God is doing, and hear what He is saying, when He reveals it to me. Instead of fretting that I don’t do what the other prophets are doing, I am learning to use my gift according to God’s grace and my faith. I am learning to accept and enjoy my uniqueness and the way I was designed.

Verse 7: if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;

I am also a teacher – over thirty years in the public school system, as well as many small group spiritual teachings over the years. But I found that my teaching style also often differed from my peers. Which was a good thing, because not every student learned the same way. (My dream/goal is to combine my gifts of prophecy and teaching and create prophetic teachings that God can use to impact His people.)

Verse 8: the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I LOVE exhorters! However, I am not one. My husband is and sometimes it’s hard not to envy his gift. I know people with gifts of generosity, leadership, and mercy – none of which I have – and all for which I’m grateful for. They are all extremely important in the Kingdom.

Verse 9: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Just as the pom poms are trimmed of parts that interfere with their purpose, so I am trimmed of what interferes with my relationship with God and His purpose for me. But sometimes I have to do the trimming myself. God teaches me what is good and what is evil. It’s my responsibility to trim away all evil as He reveals it, and keep the good.

Verse 10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Imagine the pom poms chatting. Which set – A or B – do you think they would be saying to each other?

  1.  Aw, you are so pretty! I love your colors! You look so soft! Here, let me make room for you. You’re so awesome! You are looking better every day! I love how the yellow mixes with your white.
  • Hey, you look stupid with that little piece sticking out. Let me get fix it for you. Hmmm… feeling a little out of shape this morning? That’s too bad. Come back when you have better control over yourself. Pssst… did you see the white one today? Can’t believe it thinks it looks as good as us colorful ones.

God has recently revealed to me that I need to be more like those pom poms in set A. Instead of focusing on someone’s imperfections or differences, I need to see what He sees – a perfect pom pom in the making. This is way harder than it sounds, but also so much more important than I realize sometimes.

Verse 11: Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Pom poms are all they are made to be. A bunch of yarn tied together and shaped into a ball. Pom poms just sit, until a force acts on them.

I am so much more than a bunch of cells shaped into a human, waiting for something to move me. With God’s Spirit indwelling me, my spirit is alive and in love with my Maker, and as long as I stay focused on Him, He motivates and enables me to remain fervent in serving Him.

Verse 12: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

A pom pom can’t rejoice, be patient, or pray. But I can. I can rejoice in the hope of continual improvements. I can patiently endure the trimming process, like a pom pom submitting to the hands of its maker. And I can pray throughout every day – for myself as well as for others as they go through their own trimming experiences.

Verse 13: Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

I want to do this. I think about doing this. But I end up not doing anything sometimes. I’m glad so many people are so much better at this than I am, but that’s no excuse for me not to. I have my place in the body, and need to help support the rest of the body whenever and however I can.

Epilogue:

Philippians 1:6  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

One day, I will be a perfect pom pom – softly round and perfectly trimmed. But most likely not before I get to heaven. In the meantime, I’m content to be in the hand of my Maker, trimming away the parts I can, and allowing Him to trim the rest.

How about you?

Turn Back to God? But I Never Left.

 If you say, “Turn back to God? But I never left.”

Are you sure?

Let me tell you a story.

There was once a man and a puppy. The man loved his puppy with his whole heart, and she loved him in return. He took care of all her needs: a comfortable bed, the best food, plenty of water, and lots of fun toys. He was quick to take care of any physical ailments, and spent many hours playing with, grooming, and cuddling her.

The only thing he asked for in return was her undivided love, and for her to stay in the yard he prepared for her, which would protect her from danger, and would also keep her from becoming separated from him. She happily agreed because the yard was beautiful and contained everything she needed.

Every time she heard her master coming to spend time with her, she would run from wherever she was and jump into his arms, kissing him with her puppy tongue, and wagging her tail so hard her whole body wagged right along with it. He would laugh and hug her tight, and then put her down to start their favorite game of chase. It was a great relationship which they both treasured.

One day while he was away, she noticed some loose boards in the fence. Curious, she pushed on them and found that she was able to peek into the next yard. She couldn’t see much, but she could hear excited barks. She pushed on one of the boards a little harder, and was able to make out a group of puppies chasing each other. That looked like fun, and she wanted to join in, but she remembered that her master wanted her to stay in the yard he made for her. So she resisted the temptation to call out to them and just watched them instead. Day after day, when the man was away, she would sit with her face framed between the loose boards, and watch. Eventually the other puppies noticed her.

“Hey, would you like to play with us?”

“I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m not supposed to leave my yard.”

“Why not?” asked a tan puppy with black spots.

“My master says it’s not safe.”

“That’s just dumb,” said a scruffy brown puppy. “We’re here every day and nothing has happened to us.”

“Yeah, your master sounds too strict,” chimed in another scruffy puppy, this one white.

“But he loves me and wants what’s best for me.”

The tan puppy ran closer to her. “Really? Then there’s no problem. He wants you to be happy, right?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be happy playing with us?”

“Yes, I think so. It looks fun.”

“Then what’s wrong with having a little fun with us? Your master will be glad that you’re happy. Besides, he’s not home. He won’t even know.”

She frowned. Something didn’t sound right about this, but the tan puppy made sense. “Okay, but just for a little while.”

The other puppies barked excitedly, welcoming her as she pushed past the loose boards.

Looking around, she immediately noticed this yard wasn’t as beautiful as her yard. It was dirtier, and crowded with all kinds of things. Some looked nice enough, like the wading pool, colorful balls, and yummy smelling chew toys. But others, like the thick chains, dirty muzzles, and rusty cages, were kind of threatening. “Don’t worry about those,” they assured her. “Just play with what you want.” So she did, and found being there as much fun as it had looked. Chasing the other puppies, fighting over toys, splashing in the muddy puddles, and barking at nothing were all amazingly entertaining. When she got tired, she rested under the tall, spreading trees. When she was thirsty, she drank from the community water bowl, gradually getting used to the taste of the discolored water. And when she got hungry, she shared the synthetic food the others ate. Eventually she began to worry about the time.

“I think I need to go now.”

“Sure, thanks for joining us. Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Maybe,” she said as she slipped back into her yard.

When the man arrived, she wasn’t quite as eager to greet him. A sense of guilt interfered with the joy she normally felt. Would he know that she had not stayed where he told her? But he didn’t say anything so she put the feeling behind her as they began their daily game of chase. Usually he chased her first. As soon as he touched her, he would run off, laughing and calling to her as she chased after him. It usually didn’t take long for her to catch him, and then they would roll around on the ground with lots of delighted laughter and happy barks. But this day was different. For some reason she could never get quite close enough to catch him.

The next day she couldn’t resist the urge to join her new friends again. The fun was just as intoxicating, and again the man didn’t say anything. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe he wouldn’t have to know. Or maybe the other puppies were right. Maybe he didn’t care where she went as long as she was happy. So as the weeks went by, she not only joined them each day but arrived earlier and stayed later until she was spending most of her time over there.

Without being aware of it, her joy in her own yard slowly faded. She still loved her master, but found her new friends and their yard much more enticing. The more she played with them, the more she wanted to be with them. Chasing and digging and barking filled her days, and she returned to her yard guilty and exhausted each evening.  Her run-and-jump into the man’s arms was replaced with a crawl, sometimes even reluctantly when she was especially tired. She still enjoyed her time with him, but sometimes had trouble staying focused on him as the thoughts of the other yard filled her mind.  She still ate her good food, but it became more of snack because the cheap food kept her stomach full. And the more of the dirty water she drank, the less thirsty she was for her own clean water.

The man saw the difference – in her attitude, in her lack of cleanliness, and in her health as slowly the unhealthy food and water took its toll. He knew she had been leaving the yard, but he had been waiting for her to realize the consequences weren’t worth the disobedience. And he was hoping her love for him, and his love for her, would be stronger than the pull of the other yard. But one day he couldn’t wait any longer.

“Where have you been going?”

“Nowhere,” she lied, looking away from him.

He shook his head sadly. “Don’t you know that the filth of that other yard, the filth that now covers you, separates us?”

Convicted, she whispered, “I’m sorry. I won’t go back. I don’t want to be separated from you. Please clean me up.”

He did, and their relationship was restored. But the pull of the other yard was strong, as were the voices of the puppies calling to her. So again and again, she continued to leave her yard to join them in theirs. And again and again her master cleaned her when she asked. Eventually though, she came to think like the other puppies. “My master will always be there. He loves me and will always forgive me. So what’s wrong with having a little fun?”

Now for the big question… did that puppy turn away from her master?”

And for an even bigger question… have you turned away from your Master? I know I have. We all have. It’s just a degree of how far into that other yard we’ve gone.

God’s calling us to come back. Can you hear Him?


Deuteronomy 10:12  “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (emphasis mine)

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

1 Peter 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.