Passion Diminished

The word passion is derived from the Latin passio and the Greek pathema, both of which mean suffering or enduring. Today this meaning is most closely associated with what Jesus Christ went thru in the last hours of His earthly life.

 

Modern usage of the word passion is more commonly connected to other definitions… ardent affection, a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept, and of course sexual desire. It is the first two definitions that have been on my mind lately, especially as they are connected to the Latin & Greek terminology.

 

ponderThe question that I have been pondering is this: Is anyone truly passionate about anything anymore?? It seems to me that most of us have subjects that pique our interest, activities that we enjoy, & stuff that we get involved in for one reason or another…but are we really passionate about any of it?? Nelson Mandela once said that “there is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”, yet that is exactly what most of us do…we play small and settle.

 

This train of thought began, in part, with a conversation I had with The Owl. We were lamenting the lostbowl art of customer service. We are both old enough (especially him) to remember the days when one could go into a clothing, music, shoe, electronics, or any other kind of store and find genuinely helpful salespeople, the kind of folks who had been doing the gig for a long time and really knew their stuff. They were passionate about their work and cared about doing it the right way. Oh sure they wanted to make a sale and earn extra cash, but it seemed to be understood that the two things weren’t mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, back then it felt like everyone knew that being honest, respectful, knowledgeable, & diligent is what would clinch the sale. I am sure that kind of service is available today, but it is certainly rarer than it used to be. Such jobs are looked down upon now. They are viewed as stepping stones to something better. Few employees are passionate about the products they produce/sell or the companies for which they work. It’s just a job, a necessary evil to be able to pay bills & put food on the table.

 

bbeeBut this lack of passion isn’t just reserved for the 40 hours/week that we are on the job. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We are overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many choices at our fingertips that we go from one thing to another, like a bumblebee gathering nectar & pollen, darting from flower to flower, never staying in one place or focused on one thing for too long. We are always in a hurry and have such a diminished attention span that we don’t take time to embrace excellence or let our passion ripen. We have developed faster & cheaper ways to do just about everything, but quality suffers because craftsmanship has become all too uncommon.

 

passionWatch a ball game. Go to a concert. Check out a museum. Read a book. Go see a theater production. What do all of those things have in common?? Passion. Excellence. Hard work. Effort. One doesn’t make it to the NFL or NBA, get a book published, become part of an orchestra, or star in a play, movie, or television show without all of those things. Certainly natural talent plays a part, but the finished products that you & I enjoy are the result of a lot of blood, sweat, & tears and countless hours of training & preparation. Yet the people that do those things at a high level make up a fractional percentage of the population. Most of the rest of us just try to get thru our day with as little stress as possible and without putting forth any more effort than necessary. And when we are forced to work hard we usually don’t feel good about it because we really don’t enjoy what we are doing. We feel obligated to serve on the committee. Parents feel like they have to involve their kids in every extracurricular activity available. Folks begrudgingly volunteer for the hot dog sale, book drive, or brainstorming meeting. We show up because we like the people and believe in the organization & its mission, but also because we’ve been taught that it’s the right thing to do, we don’t want anyone to dislike or be disappointed in us, and simply because we don’t know how to say no even when that is exactly what we would prefer to do. I’m not saying these are horrible reasons to be involved in something or that anyone has bad apathyintentions. I am only suggesting that those reasons/excuses don’t mean a person is passionate about their involvement and in the long run it shows. Most everyone has a job and atleast one hobby…but in my experience few people nowadays have a true passion. On the rare occasion that those things intersect it is obvious and the outcome is beautiful. Harriet Tubman observed that “every great dream begins with a dreamer”. Perhaps that is part of the issue. We have become far too pragmatic. We play it safe. We don’t take chances. To call someone a dreamer is at best dismissive and possibly even an insult.

 

lukewarmSadly this issue infiltrates our churches and the spiritual realm. Sunday mornings are oftentimes just a social outing where we get to drink coffee and hang out with friends. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with good coffee or great fellowship, but how can we say we have a relationship with a God & Savior that we only interact with a couple of hours per week and even that time lacks passion?? The meme you are seeing on the left is something that I ran across a few weeks ago and it’s been gnawing at me ever since. Those words are probably responsible for this discourse as much or more than my conversation with The Owl. None of us want to spend eternity in Hell so we seek salvation, but salvation should be as much about living our earthly lives in relationship with God as it is spending eternity with Him. We rob ourselves of years of joy by continuing to wallow in sin and paying lip service to God, playing “church” on Sunday but doing whatever feels good or seems cool & hip the other 6 ½ days of the week. God tells us in Revelation that “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The third chapter of 2 Timothy talks about “having a form of godliness but denying its power”, which I believe is a perfect definition of religion in America.

 

Part of the reason why we lack devotion is because we prefer to avoid suffering, thus the two meanings of passion concurrently toe-in-the-wateroverlap and diverge. Not only do we not have the dedication to put in the work required to attain excellence, we are uncomfortable with the idea of suffering, whatever that may entail. It is much easier to just dip our toe in the water than to dive in and fully immerse ourselves.

 

I do not say these things to pass judgement. I am as guilty as anyone for lacking passion in my life. Neither do I offer solutions because a) I’m not that smart and b) I’m not sure there is one pithy, one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. These are just things that I have observed, and the first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one.

My New Identity in Christ

I’m going to break a few of my own rules today. First of all, I usually do not repost the plethora of little pictures with cute sayings or quotes that everybody puts on Facebook these days. Sometimes I’ll look at them and chuckle or agree with the insight espoused, sometimes I’ll devote a few seconds to mocking & derision in my own mind, and sometimes I’ll just plain outright ignore it in search of an original thought…but rarely do I share with the masses. I suppose it is my nod to non-conformity. However, sometimes I do come across something rather good that I feel needs to be spread to others and therefore happily do my part. Secondly, I am a big proponent of not doing all the heavy lifting myself. If you want to know what a particular Bible verse actually says I feel that it is important that you actually pick up a Bible and read it versus me spoon-feeding you the information. However, in this case not only have I done the work for you I have actually expanded upon the original verses given so as to provide context. The emphasis in bold is strictly mine. And finally, I have avoided, as much as possible, the ol’ cut & paste routine here at The Manofesto. The things I write are generally my own thoughts & opinions, with minimal research done just so I don’t come across as a complete idiot who has no idea what I am talking about. But in this case I feel as if this is something worth sharing here. Enjoy & God bless.

 

 

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.     Ephesians 1:3-14

 

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.    Ephesians  2:4-10

 

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;  giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.              Colossians  1:3-15

 

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.   1 Peter  2:18-25

 

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.     Romans  5:1-5

 

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.     Romans  8:1

 

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

 

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.   Titus  2:11-15

 

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.    1 Corinthians  15:50-58

 

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty.      2 Corinthians  6:14-18

 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. Galatians  2:20-21

 

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.    Galatians  3:13-14

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   John  3:16-20

 

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?   1 John  5:2-5

 

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.       Revelation  1:5-6

The Fruits of the Spirit – Longsuffering

Patience-Roger-Smith-CEO-American-Income-LifeI was once given the advice “Don’t pray to God for patience because He will give you plenty of opportunities to practice”. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of that particular directive, I have decided for now to write about it rather than pray for it.  As you may have guessed, I am not examining The Fruits of the Spirit in any particular order or with any sort of overriding structural theme. I think they each tell their own individual stories that guide us down the correct path when viewed collectively.

 

Longsuffering is an interesting word. It certainly isn’t common terminology we utilize in everyday conversation. It comes from the Greek word makrothumia, meaning long-tempered…the opposite of short-tempered. Longsuffering can be defined as forbearance, patience, steadfastness, self-restraint in avenging wrongs, and the ability to endure adversity, persecution, provocation, suffering, & ill will with no thought of retaliation or punishment. Longsuffering is the antithesis of anger and is associated with mercy. It is being mild, gentle, and constant in all circumstances.

 

There are many shades of anger. I do not consider myself to be violent. I have never beaten anyone up or made any type of legitimate threats. I don’t brandish weapons, and I don’t generally go around causing mayhem or destruction. But…..I am easily annoyed, tend to hold grudges, and have an overall sense of resentment against people, situations, and entities that I perceive to have caused me harm or even mere inconvenience. This acrimony, more often than not, fruitdoes not manifest itself in any tangible way. Most who interact with me personally and professionally would consider me to be kind, polite, and even-tempered. Only those few with whom I am most comfortable ever get a glimpse of the animosity simmering just beneath the surface. And even then I have the ability to spin things with wit and a modicum of charm. But does the fact that my frustration with those things that fall short of my standards and expectations doesn’t lead to any corporeal damage make it okay?? Jesus tells the Pharisees in the 16th chapter of Luke that ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  In other words, I have some work to do.

 

However, I suspect that I am not alone. Our society can be rather aggravating. Between job related stress, the pressures inherent with raising a family, economic woes, inescapable socio-political divides, technology that is both awesomely wonderful yet sadly fragile, and a dog-eat-dog fast paced world where we all want to keep up with the Joneses to the point that even a vacation can cause strife…well, as Kevin Costner says in Bull Durham, “We’re dealing with a lot of stuff”. It isn’t uncommon to hear people wistfully hearken back to a simpler time, where they perceive life was better. But that is a mirage. Life may not have been as fast paced a hundred years ago…no automobiles or super highways, no televisions, no Internet, no video games, not as many “everyone else is going there” tourist traps…but economic conditions were even tougher, people had to work much harder for much less, living conditions and illness meant shorter lives, and the world was far smaller and less accessible. In other words, throughout the ages humanity has had issues to face and burdens to endure. There has only been one constant over all the years, and with all due respect to James Earl Jones, it isn’t baseball. The 13th chapter of Hebrews tells us that God will never leave or forsake us and that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

faithWhich leads me to the first key point we need to ponder in relation to longsuffering. One does not have to look any further than the example of Christ to understand the essence of the fruit we are to bear. No greater demonstration of longsuffering can be found than that shown by God toward man. Everyone knows John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” We know it so well and it is a verse that is so often quoted that I sometimes fear its meaning has been watered down or atleast taken for granted. Do you know anyone who would literally die for you, or anyone who you would die for?? We all have close family and maybe a few good friends. It is likely that most parents would answer yes to the question in regard to their children. But honestly…and I am truly trying to put aside my cynical tendencies here…how many people would REALLY die for another human being?? I suspect the honest answer is “not many”.

 

Have you ever done a favor for another person?? I am sure most everyone has at some point in their life. How did the person react?? They probably said thank you, or maybe they went so far as to buy you a nice gift or treat you to dinner. However, have you ever experienced a person for whom you have done a favor say to you “I owe you one”. I have…many times. And let me tell you what usually happens…they never get around to actually doing anything about it. I think that is how we treat The Lord. He made the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity, and how do we repay Him?? By not being even one thousandth of one percent as patient and understanding with our fellow man as He is with us. Our life is 100% in His hands. Every breath we take is a gift from Him. All that is asked of us is to be a mirror image of Christ, to bear the fruits that we are discussing in this series. Yet every single day…multiple times during the day…we carelessly ignore our responsibility and casually disregard the favor that was done for us…that is done for us every moment. If The Lord was an impatient with us as we are with everything and everyone none of us would last 5 minutes. But 2 Peter tells us that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If we make an honest effort to live life in a Christ-like fashion one of the first things we need to do…that I know I need to do for sure…is to shed much of the frustration and resentment that we allow into our daily lives. 1 Timothy says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting”. If we want the gift of eternal life we need to use Jesus as the pattern and show others the mercy that He shows us daily. Another verse that we tend to use as a cliché without actually giving it the consideration it deserves is found in Matthew 7:12, which says “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them”. Of course we refer to this as The Golden Rule…but do we follow it?? More often than not we tend to bend it into “do unto others as they have done unto you” or even “do unto others before they do unto you”. But those twists are the result of Man’s brokenness and the damage that sin has wrought on the world, and following those rules will get us nowhere except our very own extremely warm corner of Hell.

 

The second point that needs to be touched on is the question of how to bear the fruit of longsuffering. It is not a skill that one can learn in a six week correspondence course or that will magically develop overnight. It takes effort. It might seem rather obvious, but the only way to become more Christ-like is to develop a relationship with Christ and study His holy teachings. In one of my previous places of employment when a new supervisor was hired one of the first things they did was “shadow” an experienced supervisor for a number of weeks. We need to “shadow” Christ not just for a few weeks or months, but every day for the rest of our lives. Spend time with Him in prayer, study your Bible, and surround yourself with fellow Christians who you can learn from and emulate. This last part is admittedly a delicate balancing act because we are not to shut ourselves up in church and only associate with fellow believers. We are to be “fishers of men”. Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. On the other hand, we need the support and relationship of other believers in Christ. A relationship with Christ is pretty much the whole ball of wax…it is what everything boils down to. And I think as we grow in that relationship we can’t help but become more and more the person that we are meant to be, which in part means bearing fruit. This holds true for all the Fruits of the Spirit, but I believe it is especially important in regard to longsuffering, as it may be the one we struggle with the most yet is most easily put into practice if only we make the effort.

 

When we accept the free gift of salvation we are to be “born again”. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Once saved we are a new person. Ephesians instructs to “no longer walk as the rest, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness”. Furthermore, according to 2 Timothy we are to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will”. It is important that we bear fruit not only as proof of our maturing relationship with the Lord, but so that we may also be a guiding light for others.  The same chapters tells us that we are to “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching”. Anyone who has ever tried to teach anyone anything, whether it was one on one or in a group setting, will understand the need for patience in such a setting.

 

The final point I want to emphasize about longsuffering is…well…suffering. Afterall, it is part of the word, right?? Many new Christians come to the Lord through a “mountaintop experience”. They hear an especially powerful sermon, attend a large gathering like Promise Keepers, or go to an old fashioned fire & brimstone revival. In situations like that it becomes easy to run to an altar and “make the decision” for Christ. Please don’t misunderstand…I am not questioning the authenticity of salvation received in these settings. I myself gave my heart to The Lord following a performance of the drama Heavens Gates and Hell’s Flames. But my concern is what comes afterward. The next day one must go back out into the world…work, school, friends, family, and dealing with the general public in everyday situations. This is the true test. Contrary to popular belief life does not suddenly become sunshine and roses just because one said a prayer and asked Jesus to forgive their sins. Salvation is not the end, it is the beginning. Relationship and growth must follow, and it is my sincere belief that it is during this lifelong process that Satan will come after a person with a full court press. The question is how will you react to these tests of your faith?? Make no mistake…they are not graded on a curve and a C is not acceptable. Life is pass/fail. Our response to the difficulties we face is an excellent barometer of where we stand in our relationship with Christ. And I am not talking about the big stuff. I think most people have a tendency to call on the Lord in times of real trouble…severe illness, death, and other significant calamities. But how do you react to the “ankle biters”…the little aggravations and roadblocks we encounter every day?? James 1:2-4 counsels us to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It may seem a bit odd that we should rejoice when we’re in trouble, but that is exactly what we are supposed to do. Remember, Christ DIED for our sins…so is it really too much to ask that we endure annoying co-workers, bad drivers, slow checkout lines, thoughtless friends, overbearing in-laws, rambunctious children, and all the other obstacles life throws in our path??

 

The 103rd Psalm says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever”. God is complex. He is love, and He shows us infinite mercy and patience on a daily basis, yet one day we will all face judgment. How can we hope for a free pass that we do not deserve if we do not bear fruit?? Why do we assume and expect God’s continuous patience with us in light of our sins but not show the same understanding toward others ourselves?? I cannot sum up the expectation God has of us any better that Colossians 3:1-5 – “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of the Spirit – Joy

joyLast summer I began a series on the Fruits of the Spirit, but did not get very far before getting distracted with other things. The truth is that those other things are usually either easier or more fun to write, or spur of the moment musings brought on by something that has inspired me in my daily life. Something like a close examination of a lengthy and important Biblical passage takes a bit more research and prayerful consideration and therefore becomes a bit more of a task. However, circumstances have converged in a way that has aroused my desire to pick up the mantle. A general malaise and feeling of dissatisfaction with my life has somehow coincided with the writer’s block that hits me on occasion lifting. So rather than write a bunch of stuff that would only be of interest to disciples of Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Cobain, I have decided to write about joy. Oh how I dig irony.

 

Most may assume that we have a firm grasp on what joy is, but do we really?? Joy is defined as great delight, gladness of heart, keen pleasure, elation, glad feeling, and festive gaiety. Oftentimes the terms joy and happiness are used interchangeably, but is that accurate?? I think not. The author CS Lewis pondered the question thusly: “I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy. Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is”. We can follow that up with this musing from another author, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both”. I think one would be correct in stating that happiness is much more akin to pleasure, and therefore happiness and joy are not the same. Lewis is right…happiness is usually within our power. It doesn’t take all that much to make the average person happy. The possibilities are endless and depend on one’s own individual preferences. Personally I am happy reading a good book, when my favorite sports teams win, playing with my puppy, eating good food, and whenever I catch a favorite old movie on television…just to name a few. Others have spouses and children that make them happy. Some folks travel. Others play music. The problem, however, is this…as easily as we can be happy we can also quickly become unhappy. Anger, bitterness, and frustration are byproducts of being fallible human beings and dealing with others just like us. Happiness is all too temporary. Those things that make us happy may only last mere minutes or hours, and then it is right back to the inherent unhappiness in a world fraught with sin.

 

We spend our entire lives in the constant pursuit of happiness and pleasure. “The pursuit of happiness” is even written into the United States Declaration of j2Independence as an unalienable right endowed to men by God. The Founding Fathers almost had it right…but not quite. What we tend to find is that this pursuit of happiness is exhausting and ultimately empty. At the very least we are limited by time, money, and other responsibilities. In extreme cases we see people who tried to find happiness via alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and other assorted illegal or unhealthy activities have their lives destroyed or even ended prematurely. St. Thomas Aquinas once stated “man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joy it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures”. Now I am not saying that we should stop having good clean fun. To be honest I get aggravated with Christians who unwittingly put a bad spin on the faith because they are uptight wet blankets that will not allow themselves to loosen up. However, what I am suggesting is that we put fun/happiness/pleasure into its proper perspective and understand its fickle nature. What we truly need to pursue is joy, and that cannot be found in a bar, as an ingredient in any drug, on television, at the mall, in any food we eat, or in the seemingly intimate embrace of another human being.

 

Romans 14:17 tells us that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. At the end of the day the pursuit of happiness will always leave a void remaining within us, but true joy in The Lord is eternal. That joy will enhance the highs of life, but it also assists in riding out the low points…and there WILL be low points. One of the problems we run into is that we don’t like feeling sad, lonely, angry, disappointed, etc. In order to avoid those bad feelings we pursue more happiness, which in turn eventually lets us down again. We are like a cat chasing its tail, and it’s a game we cannot win, a most vicious cycle. What we need to do is change the game. Life does not have to be like golf or tennis…us against the world. Life is a team effort, but we not only have to accept the help of our teammate, but we have to make Him the captain of the team. Psalm 16:11 says “You will show me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore”. The only way we can grow from the meaningless, vacant pursuit of happiness into having joy is to put our ego aside and let Him lead.

 

Now one thing we do have to understand is what I mentioned about those low points. I truly believe that the closer we draw to God the more it ticks off Satan and the more he tempts us in an effort to force us into sin. And while it is a certainty that we will still sin on occasion, we can lessen the impact if God is our team captain. I don’t want to plunge too deeply into the topics of salvation and grace, not only because it is straying from the purpose at hand but also because those subjects deserve their own focus. Suffice to say that if we are covered in the blood of Christ our sin is washed away and we are assured eternal life. But more germane to the present issue, if we have full joy in God then we can better weather the storms of life that are sure to come along. Habakkuk 3:17-18 says “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.

 

Also, if we are experiencing true joy in our life then we are better equipped to witness to others. Mother Teresa once said ““joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And isn’t that part of our mission?? We are to be “fishers of men”. I am certainly not an expert fisherman, but I know enough to understand that it is a lot easier and one will catch more fish with a net.

 

for_joySo how do we find joy?? I am not sure I am qualified to answer that question, as I am still figuring it out myself (and, to be quite honest, not doing such a great job lately), but I know a few things. I know that we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. One needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…that is the foundation for everything. I know the basic rules, i.e. The Ten Commandments, and other teachings of Jesus and that we are to strive to be Christ-like. I know that I am “in the world but not of the world” and that we (Christians) are to be “peculiar people”.  And I know that, as Ecclesiastes tells us, everything else is vanity. But there is a difference between knowing and doing. Famed 19th century minister and author Henry Ward Beecher said that “There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.” We are so busy pursuing temporary, meaningless, and sometimes carnal and sinful pleasures that we overlook the eternal joy within our grasp. Stopping the cycle of futility is an ongoing battle. Much like an alcoholic is never truly “cured”, we need to fight for our joy every day, resisting empty temptations and turning instead to our Father in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to all men. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” – Phillipians 4:4-7.

 

 

 

 

The Parable of the Lost Wallet

I can be absent minded and scatter brained. Sometimes I wonder with a certain level of concern what I might be like when I get older. When I leave my apartment every day there are certain things I try to make sure are with me…cell phone, home keys, wallet, truck keys, the keys I need to infiltrate the guarded fortress where I work. I have to make sure I have both sets of glasses…if it’s sunny outside and I’m wearing sunglasses I need to make sure my actual glasses are with me as well, and if it’s not sunny at the moment but may be later I need to plan for that contingency. I have an air pump for my wheelchair cushion that I always need to have access to because the cushion tends to randomly go flat for no real reason. If I am going to the bank I need the proper paperwork. If I’m headed to church or Bible Study I need my Bible. It’s a lot of pressure!! And quite frankly, sometimes I fail in my mission. What usually happens is I leave my apartment and somewhere between entering the elevator on the fifth floor and departing it on the first, or maybe between the elevator downstairs and my parking lot it dawns on me what I’ve forgotten. This seems to be a case of “like father like son”, as I recall many times as a child it would take my Dad 2 or 3 tries to actually leave the driveway successfully without forgetting something. The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

I bring this up because I recently lost my wallet, or so I thought. I was working a swing shift and upon departing my workplace at midnight I gathered my stuff up and headed home. When I got home I needed my wallet for some reason. I forget exactly why. Anyway, I looked in my man purse (more formally known as a messenger bag) and couldn’t find it. I emptied the bag of its contents…a Bible, a book or two, my IPhone, keys…..but no wallet. I suddenly became concerned. But I thought for sure that I’d just left it on my desk at work, so I called. I work at a 24/7-365 hotline so I knew the lady working midnight shift would answer, which she did. I asked her to look for my wallet. No wallet. Now I was really beginning to freak out. I’m not a wealthy man and rarely carry much cash, so that wasn’t really a big deal. The bigger issue in my mind was the possibility of identity theft. I was overwhelmed at the thought of all the hassles involved with cancelling credit cards, having to get a new drivers’ license and social security card, and trying to replace various other things I carry, some of which might not seem all that vital to most but they are meaningful to me.

 

I only live about a mile away from my job, so I made a swift decision to hop in the truck and come back down to look myself. Upon arriving in the parking lot and getting out of the truck, wheelchair and all (and those who know me realize it’s not an easy process) I realized I’d made a slight error…I’d forgotten the previously mentioned keys to the fortress. I couldn’t just call and have my co-worker come down and let me in because she was alone and not allowed to leave her post…plus I hadn’t bothered to bring my phone either. So I returned home and by this time I was an odd mix of manic and exhausted. It’s not a good combination. I got the fortress keys (and my phone) and once again came back to the office. I came, I saw, and I did not conquer…still no wallet. I returned home resigned to the fact that the next day was going to be a hellish effort of phone calls and trips to the DMV and whatever else needed to be done. And then, when I was at that point where all I could think about was sleep, I had a revelation. I reached for the man purse and took a peak into the rarely used back compartment. I had a slight inkling, a miniscule recollection of possibly having placed the wallet there earlier that afternoon. I never ever put anything in that compartment. But this time I had put something there. Words cannot express the feeling of relief I had as I clutched this wallet…this meaningless, insignificant object…in my arms like a baby and literally said, out loud, “thank you Jesus!!”.

 

And that’s when it hit me. I was reacting this way in regards to an inanimate possession, something completely replaceable and, in the grand scheme of life, not all that important. That’s when I began to think. I began to ponder people who come out of the mall or the grocery store and realize their car has been stolen. I began to contemplate folks who come home to find their home ransacked and pillaged, or worse…burnt to the ground. Then my mind wandered to parents who take their eyes off their child for just one second and all the sudden they’re gone. If I was so relieved to find something as relatively irrelevant as a wallet how must it feel to have that automobile found or realize that the thieves didn’t take anything of real value out of the home?? What must a parent feel like at that moment when a child who has been lost returns home safe and sound?? And then my mind began to zero in on Jesus.

 

I’d read the parables in the new testament about lost sheep, a lost coin, and the lost son. But now they had come to life in a very real, very personal way. The relief and dare I say joy I felt at the moment I found my stupid wallet can’t even begin to compare to the thrill Jesus  must get when one of his lost children decides to reclaim their relationship with The Father. I believe God speaks to us if we’re smart enough and open enough to hear what He is saying, and I believe that He was teaching me a very valuable lesson the night I didn’t lose my wallet but was convinced that I did.

 

 

 

Hall of Influence – The Inaugural Class

It didn’t take long to decide who the first inductee into The Hall of Influence should be or to settle on making Him the one and only person in the inaugural class. It would just feel wrong to include any other human being, be it actor or writer or purveyor of the public good, no matter how immense their accomplishments and influence upon my life may be. Sometimes a being is so special, so unique, so remarkable that they deserve the spotlight all to themselves. I can think of no one who fits that description better than Jesus Christ.

 

He is known by many names…..Jesus of Nazareth, The Alpha &Omega, Messiah, The Son of God, Our Lord & jesus-christ_3153Savior, Lamb of God, and The Way, The Truth, & The Life. Whatever particular verbage one chooses to utilize though cannot possibly capture who He is and what He has meant to the world. I am hesitant to even write about Him because there is no way I can even come close to doing Him justice. But I suppose I’ll give it a whirl.

 

I am by no means intolerant or arrogant, something that we Christians get accused of often in 21st Century America. However, I’m not a big fan of the term “tolerance” because I believe it to be a politically correct buzzword that means much more than just its surface definition. When folks talk about being “openminded” it often has a subliminal meaning. I consider myself to be pretty flexible and understanding, but on the other hand I believe what I believe and know what I know. Some things are black and white. There is right vs. wrong, good vs. evil. When being openminded in essence means “anything goes” and “whatever feels good do it” then I begin to no longer have an open mind. If that makes me bigoted or insensitive in some peoples’ eyes then so be it. When it’s all said and done I know how things will end.

 

I was a simple churchgoer for the first 25 years of my life. I sat in Sunday school, I listened politely to the sermons, I sang the songs. But after church…in the 6 ensuing days…I lived life pretty much how I darn well pleased. I think most folks perceive me as a nice guy…friendly, raised by a good family, a lifelong church member. But believe me…I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life. I’ve done things and acted in ways that I’d be ashamed for anyone to find out about, especially family and friends who have that “good person” perception. There is a vast difference between now and about a decade ago though…..and that difference is Jesus Christ.

 

I wish I could say that I was one of those that was instantly transformed, that a warm feeling overtook me, a heavenly light glowed, and I have been a perfect person and not done anything wrong since I accepted the free gift of salvation. However, that would be a lie. And to be quite honest, I am not sure that very many people actually see such instantaneous change. The Bible talks about justification and sanctification. In the simplest terms possible justification is that moment when we ask Jesus into our heart and we are washed in the blood of The Lamb, while sanctification is the growth that takes place afterward. The first part is pretty easy and effortless.  It’s the sanctification…the growth…that is a lifelong process. I am learning more and more and it’s becoming clearer every day that the process, if it is to be successful in the long run, requires today’s subject – Jesus Christ.

 

We live in an interesting world. It’s a world of instant gratification, of having answers to almost anything at our fingertips via the Internet and other technology, of experts (atleast in theory) on almost any subject. Isn’t it odd that many will turn on Oprah every afternoon, bounce from doctor to doctor, keep Barnes & Noble in business by spending loads of cash in the self help section, or try to alter their state of mind through alcohol and drugs, all in an effort to seek elusive answers to complex questions?? I am not casting aspersions on everyone else because I too have been guilty of embarking on fruitless quests for a quick fix. What I have learned though is that even though some of those things aren’t all bad…doctors have their place and occasionally one will find a book with some unique and helpful insight…ultimately there is only one answer to every question, one path to true peace, one entity who will be there without fail and who is more faithful and reliable than the most cherished family member or the closest friend. That answer, that faithful and reliable being, is Jesus Christ.

 

As I mentioned, I’m still not the person I want to be. I still make mistakes…..daily. But the difference now is that I have the sincerest desire to improve, and also when I do head down the wrong road I know it a lot quicker than I used to. In many cases I realize it almost immediately, or atleast soon enough so that my error in judgment doesn’t actually turn into anything tangible. It’s called the conviction of The Holy Spirit. I am a sincere believer in The Trinity…..the three pronged being of God, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit. The conviction of The Spirit is that little voice inside one’s head…or heart…that says “don’t do that”, “don’t go there”, “this is wrong and you know it”, and various other related messages. It also works in a more proactive way, pushing us toward knowing the right thing and actually doing that right thing, regardless of whether it’s the easy thing (which it usually isn’t). I will never be perfect, but being Christ-like is something I desire and work toward.

 

The voice, the connection with The Spirit, grows stronger by developing a relationship with Christ. It wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t really understand what that meant. It was just some fancy language that the preacher spouted off about on Sunday morning. But like a lot of the things related to being a Christian it’s really a lot simpler that we realize. Think about your parents and grandparents, your best friends, your co-workers, your spouse, your children…..all of which you have some sort of relationship with. What does having a relationship mean?? A relationship is a significant bond or an emotionally close camaraderie. By definition there is involvement. You know things about one another…..likes, dislikes, desires, what makes someone happy, what makes them sad. You hang out together, spend time together, do things, and engage in activities. That’s what Christ desires with us…a relationship. How do we develop a relationship with Jesus?? Pray, study The Bible, communicate with Him. If you’ve got a problem don’t read your horoscope, write to Dr. Phil, play the lottery, take every newfangled prescription medication that comes down the pike, or visit a psychic. Matthew 7:7 says “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

 

Now does that mean that Jesus is Santa Claus and He will grant your every wish?? No. Sometimes we, in our humanity, cannot see the big picture. Satan tempts us with a lot of things that look good, taste good, feel good, and seem…well…good. However, as the old saying goes, looks can be deceiving. The only way we can develop the power of discernment is to have an open line of communication with The Holy Spirit. Communication is a reciprocal process. Too often we don’t develop our relationship with Christ, only calling on Him when we’ve really stepped into something deep and have exhausted all other options. But isn’t it a little selfish to only call on someone infrequently and only when we have no other choice?? I know a lot of polite folks who wouldn’t dream of bothering or using a family member, neighbor, or co-worker like that…..yet many of us don’t hesitate to use The Lord like that without giving it a second thought. I am thankful that He doesn’t treat me like I treat Him sometimes, otherwise I’d be in big trouble. What I am learning as I travel the pathway of life is that it is much better in the long run…and so much more fulfilling…to have an ongoing relationship with Jesus. And I am quite sure He would agree.

 

I could go on and on, but I won’t. Suffice to say that Jesus should be the most influential person in my life, and that’s coming to fruition more each and every day. Therefore He is far and away the obvious inaugural inductee into The Hall of Influence.

 

 

Let’s Talk About God: Value

We’ve all had that experience of getting a song stuck in our head for hours or even days for no apparent reason. I’ve had two songs running through my head off and on for weeks now, and I finally figured out why. The two songs are Blessed Assurance and Victory In Jesus. I grew up in and still attend a small country church with a fondness for the old traditional hymns. It’s not that we, or I, are unwilling to venture outside the box. I’m not against some of the newer, more modern, rockin’ “contemporary Christian” music. Some of it is quite good. But there’s just something about those established and timeless tunes. Anyway, I want to specifically look at one section of each of the two songs I mentioned.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood


O victory in Jesus
My Savior, forever
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood


When looking at those stanzas, something really jumps out at me. There are two phrases..…”purchase of God” and “”He sought me and bought me”…..that leap off the page.

We all shop, right? We buy groceries, computers, birthday gifts, and a plethora of other items on a daily basis. When we pay our hard earned money for things we demand value. We want our food to taste good, our clothes to fit and be comfortable, our cars to work properly so they can get us where we need to go, and our entertainment to be…..well, entertaining. We demand value for our money. So why would we expect God to want anything less?

Now I know what you’re thinking…..salvation is a free gift. That is a true statement in that it is free for us if we so choose to take it. However, it is only free to us because the price was paid by Jesus Christ. God purchased us, sought us and bought us, not with dollars and cents, but with the currency of His son’s blood. So the question becomes…..what do you do if something you buy doesn’t work or isn’t up to your standard? If you’re a nice person like me you very politely return the item and exchange it for a new one. If you are a bit more aggressive you may become angry and have some heated words with a salesman. Either way, we demand value.

God wants value for the price He paid too. He wants us to be the very best we can be. He wants us to honor and worship Him and keep his commandments. He wants us to read and study His word and live in a manner befitting someone who has done so. He wants us to tell the world about Him. He wants our life in exchange for the life of His son. Fortunately for us He doesn’t expect us to die. Actually, He wants us to live. He just wants us to live a life dedicated to the things He stands for rather than the empty, shallow, meaningless things that the world stands for. That doesn’t mean we can’t laugh and have a good time. On the contrary…..we can enjoy our life knowing that we are living for something substantial, something that matters, something…..eternal.

Knowing how upset we get if our pizza arrives cold or our brand new television works improperly or our luggage gets lost in transit, how can we so nonchalantly disregard God and the hurt He must feel every day that we don’t live for Him and give value and meaning to the sacrifice that was made for us??

Let’s Talk About God – Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus Christ

Jesus is the way, the truth, the life

I used to hate memorization exercises, not because I couldn’t memorize something but because usually the final mission almost always involved reciting what one had memorized in front of a group. I don’t mind so much now the task of public speaking, but as a child it scared the daylights out of me, even though more often than not I’d work myself up into a frenzy in the days and hours leading up to the event but then be perfectly fine in actually doing what needed to be done.

One such memorization exercise has been tossing about in my noggin for about a week now, and I’m not sure why. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do recall attending some sort of Vacation Bible School (I’m almost sure the one in question was not at my home church, but at my maternal grandmother’s – she was a “soldier” in The Salvation Army) and being asked to learn Matthew 7:7, which says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”. This was probably 30 years ago, and I still remember it. For current purposes we are going to also throw into the mix verse 8, which goes on to say “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

A few things need to be said about this passage. First of all, it may seem clear, but for clarification purposes let’s point out that we’re obviously talking about prayer. Ask, seek, knock. The Lord doesn’t play offense. He gave that up after Adam and Eve ate a certain fruit He’d told them was off limits. This brought about free will, which means we make our own decisions, both good and bad. But He’s there, and He’s not going anywhere. It’s up to us to seek Him out, to knock on His door, to ask Him for help. Why do we find this so difficult?? Is it pride? Is it a culture that values self reliance, the old “I can do it on my own” attitude? Does seeking out assistance from God make us feel weak? Has The Lord made it seem too simple for our suspicious, cynical, “what’s the catch?” mentality to grasp? It’s probably all these and a lot more.

Secondly, the question arises…..what is “it”?? “It will be given…you will find (it)…it will be opened to you…”. I’m quite certain “it” doesn’t encompass anything and everything we ask God for or ask Him to do. I’m sure many have asked Him for lots of stuff…a cool car, a great job, a new house, to win the lottery, for that cute gal or guy to notice how awesome we are. But intellectually we know it’s not that easy. Even on a television game show one has to do something to earn a prize, it’s just not handed out freely. So what is “it”?? What does God promise us if we ask, seek, and knock? I think “it” boils down to two things: peace and salvation, i.e. eternal life.

Which leads to the third point. Look at this passage again. Ask, seek, knock. This is not a lazy, effortless, sedentary, passive project. However, neither is it that complicated. God wants to be more than just our ICE contact…..He wants to be on our speed dial. He wants us to call on Him often…every day, every hour, every minute. He wants to share everything with us in a reciprocal way. In other words, He’s given us, well, the entire world…so He’d like to be the main attraction in our life. I personally don’t think it’s too much to ask, even though I claim to be no better at actually letting Him be those things than anyone else. That’s a topic for another time though.