1 John 2:15

Do you wish you had more hours in your day? Do you wish you were closer to Jesus on  a moment-by-moment basis throughout the day? Do you feel like you aren’t getting enough done in each twenty-four hour period? Are you starting to feel a bit murky in your walk with God–almost as if you’re able to tolerate more sin and not feel bothered about it? If so, there’s a reasonably good chance you’re too immersed in visual media or gaming (or even poor reading choices), and its effect on you is working.

“Do not love the world [of sin that opposes God and His precepts], nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:15‬ ‭AMP)‬‬

Visual entertainment is a killer deal–from the pit of hell, that is. Too much–or the wrong kind–of TV, Netflix, video gaming, You Tube, even poor reading material choices–achieves two major “keep-’em-out-of-heaven” strategies.

1) The first thing it does is eat up our time–and the more engrossing it is, the more of it gets wasted, because you can’t seem to pull yourself away from it. Years ago Focus on the Family, I think it was, came out with a cute cartoon movie. Kids ended up at this magical place that had the coolest video games; they plugged in, and before they knew it, they were old and shriveled up because it sucked the life right out of them. That’s not an exact representation of what happens to us when we binge-watch a series on Netflix or play straight through the newest game out because, of course, most of us have to eventually get up and do other things, but activities like these still steal huge chunks of our time.

Fast forward to the moment we give an account to Jesus–will we really want to have to admit, “I didn’t finish (even begin?) the  “…good works, which God prepared beforehand that…[I] should walk in them” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬) because we were too busy pursuing entertainment and “relaxation?”

2) The second part of the double-whammy attack of passive entertainment is that it also usually brain-washes us into ungodliness–into the world’s value system, i.e. sin. Some programs and games are overt and all out there–there’s immorality of all varieties, murder, deceit, lying, stealing and pretty much anything else you can think of that’s wrong–while some are more subtle–it seems relatively acceptable until they throw an abortion at you or the main protagonists cohabitate without compunction about the fact that they aren’t actually married. Regardless, we the viewers are–whether we realize it or not–slowly and almost indiscernably–becoming desensitized to various examples of how humankind can and does fall short of the glory of God. And because the entertainment industry tends to be populated by people who do not know and love God, the characters sin with pride and we never see an honest representation of its terrible consequences.

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God or consider Him worth knowing [as their Creator], God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do things which are improper and repulsive, until they were filled (permeated, saturated) with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice and mean-spiritedness. They are gossips [spreading rumors], slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors [of new forms] of evil, disobedient and disrespectful to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful [without pity]. Although they know God’s righteous decree and His judgment, that those who do such things deserve death, yet they not only do them, but they even [enthusiastically] approve and tolerate others who practice them.” (‭‭Romans 1:28-32‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

But we know Jesus, and we know better–at least to the degree we shut off the monitor and open our Bibles.  Our lives, whether the ones we actively live or the ones we vicariously do, must not look like that! Our lives are to be spent, God gives us this time, to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) And we CANNOT perfect holiness if we are incessantly immersed in its opposite–sin. Either we saturate ourselves with holiness or with sin. Either we fill ourselves with the teaching of God or that of Satan. Either we are busy for Christ’s kingdom or we become waylaid and are off the playing field for Christ. 

And that’s the plan of hell. I hesitate to speak too much about the devil, because it is frequently difficult to determine whether it was the enemy of our souls or simply my sin-nature than tempts me to fail, but in this circumstance it really almost seems like a plan. Two for the price of one? Waste of life and erase consciousness of holiness? And most of us excuse it because, let’s be honest, we like it.

Yet Jesus said something completely different. He didn’t say, “If it feels good, it must be right.” That’s sin lying to me. Jesus said:

“If your right eye makes you stumble and leads you to sin, tear it out and throw it away [that is, remove yourself from the source of temptation]; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble and leads you to sin, cut it off and throw it away [that is, remove yourself from the source of temptation]; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

Jesus meant it–“it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body“–something in your life, that you may or may not even want gone from your life, that is keeping you from the holiness God wants to work in you–“than for your whole body to go into hell.” 

So, which will it be? Holiness or unholiness? Godliness or ungodliness? Christ or the sins of the world? His purposes and goals in you, or a wasted life? Remember:

“Do not love the world [of sin that opposes God and His precepts], nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust and sensual craving of the flesh and the lust and longing of the eyes and the boastful pride of life [pretentious confidence in one’s resources or in the stability of earthly things]–these do not come from the Father, but are from the world. The world is passing away, and with it its lusts [the shameful pursuits and ungodly longings]; but the one who does the will of God and carries out His purposes lives forever.” (‭‭1 John 2:15-17‬ ‭AMP)‬‬

We cannot pursue godliness while immersing ourselves in ungodliness. Which will it be?

Dear Lord Jesus,

You died for me so I could be forgiven, but also so I would have an understanding of holiness, and the freedom to choose right over wrong (or even better over not necessarily bad). Help me choose You. Help me remain in You. Help me choose to “perfect holiness in the fear of God,” rather than vicariously immerse myself in the sinful lifestyles of those who reject You. Amen.

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Matthew 6:33-34

Do you worry? Do you find yourself overwhelmed by issues you don’t know how to fix? Are you constantly scared that you won’t get good enough grades, that you won’t have enough money to pay your bills, or even maybe that someone unpleasant in your life will unexpectedly stress you out? If so, understand it’s not Christ heart for us to live like that.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew‬ ‭6:33-34‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

I knew today’s Bible verses since I was a child; they’re pretty well-known, especially if you grew up going to church. But I never got what the big deal was. That’s  because I never quite understood how overwhelming stress can be–how almost impossible it becomes under the right circumstances to not practically gnaw your nails off with worry because you are afraid of something. I suppose that’s because even though I had issues at various times in life, none were so all-encompassing that they threatened to keep me up at night.

But now that’s all changed. I’m fifty-five years old, have three children between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four at various stages in their academic and professional careers, and a husband with medical problems: yes, I now have concerns that threaten to weigh on me mentally and emotionally. And some days I give in–actually, to be honest, for a while there, I lived in what can only be described as an almost constant state of anxiety. That is, until I understood what Jesus wants all of us to understand.

The truth is that life can be very hard, depending on various factors–some of which are self-inflicted, some of which are not; some which we can control, others less so or not at all. Yet we have to get through the difficult time. We have to continue to function. And we have to not kill our bodies physically by acquiring stress-induced ailments like ulcers and high blood pressure. So, how do we do that?

We do that the only way possible–by walking by faith, not by sight. We may not be able to see the solution right now, but we have to trust God does. Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. God’s Word tells us that all things work together for good to those who love God–to those who are called according to His purposes. And we are assured that if we meet but two criteria–if we 1) seek God’s kingdom and 2) His righteousness in us–God will give us everything we truly need. Granted, my opinion of what I genuinely need may or may not agree with God’s all-knowing judgment of what I really truly need, but on this account, I can trust He knows best.

So, how do I tackle the scary anxiety when it threatens to overwhelm me? Mentally and emotionally, I take a long breath and jump–right into Christ’s arms, figuratively speaking. I trust that He knows how scared I am, that He knows what it is that I need, and that He is totally capable of providing it–and I don’t let the fear control me. Part of going through difficult times is not merely learning to tolerate a certain amount of mental discomfort–it is doing what needs doing, and then letting go of the rest.

Remember–Jesus told us how to do this. He said, “don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” 

We do it is one day at a time–that’s  the key to it. Sure, we need to plan for the future and do what we can to provide for it, but when things are genuinely overwhelming, getting an ulcer won’t make anything better. One day at a time–one day’s concerns are enough.

So, is there anything specific we can do when things get tough?Apart for the obvious practical things that need to be done, our best strategy is to make sure our priorities are in the right place. Am I really concerned about spreading the gospel and furthering Christ’s kingdom? Am I longing and praying for an ever-increasing degree of holiness in me? Or is my Christianity superficial? Jesus promises no provision to those who aren’t His–who don’t really follow Him. Let’s make sure we do!

Dear Lord, 

Help me deal with the difficult situations in my life by first and foremost seeking Your kingdom and righteousness, and then by handling the issues one day at a time. Amen.

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Romans 12:21

Are there times when you give in to what you know is bad? Do you sometimes find yourself eating another bite when you’re already really full, taking another drink when you’ve had enough, downing the pill even though you know you shouldn’t, or even doing something as stupid as binge-watching a Netflix series when you know it’s eating up your time and you really should be doing something else? It’s nothing no one else has ever fought with before, but know that this is a battle God wants you to win!

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:21‬)

As I get older I am increasingly impressed by the fact that God gives His people strength if we ask. And all you have to do to be one of those–one of “His people”–is submit to His authority over you, confess your sins to Him, and trust in the forgiveness He freely gives because of Jesus. But once you’ve done that, YOU NEED TO GET INTO HIS WORD.

Jesus said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

He also said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

If we remain in Jesus, we will get whatever we ask for in prayer. If we do not remain in Jesus–apart from Him–we can do nothing. Jesus–everything; no Jesus–nothing. But what does it mean to remain in Christ? How do we actually do that?

You see, there’s this really peculiar relationship between the Bible and Jesus Christ. It is that Jesus is the Word of God:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John‬ ‭1:1-5, 9-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Jesus is the revelation of God bodily in human form–His Word, His expression, His logos; the Bible is the revelation of God put down for us in written form–His Word, His expression, His logos. But both are the revelation of God, and WE REMAIN IN JESUS BY FAITHFULLY AND FREQUENTLY READING AND STUDYING THE BIBLE. That’s the key to a successful Christian life!

The truth is that it is absolutely impossible for us to resist some things on our own. That’s why we need to ASK for His help. James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” ‭‭James‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬) But wisdom isn’t the only thing we can and should ask God for: we should also ask for strength and self-control, and anything else we need to live a godly life. 

James goes on to say, “…You do not have because you do not ask God.” (‭‭James‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I have actually asked God not only that He would help me stop binge-watching an interesting series–basically that I would control it not it control me–but also that it wouldn’t be hard, and, the amazing thing is–He did! The lesson here is that we are not bothering God; He is our loving and kind Heavenly Father and wants us to ask for whatever it is we need to live a life of holiness that pleases Him!

Remember that “…’people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.'”(‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬) Even something not necessarily wrong can become wrong if it threatens to master and enslave us–if it controls us and our time instead of us controlling it. 

So, are you remaining in Jesus–are you faithfully reading and studying what God says? If so, ask Him for help with whatever it is you’re struggling with, and rest assured “…it will be done for you.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord God,

Thank You for Your precious Word; help me to remain in You, Jesus, and Your Word remain in me, so You will give me the help I need to obey You! Amen!!

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John 8:31-32

Do you ever wonder what the difference between Islam and Christianity is? As the United States becomes more pluralistic and our world smaller, if you haven’t yet, there is an increasing chance that at some point you may not only be exposed to the teachings of Islam, but may also personally know someone who practices it. So rightly understanding the differences between these two faiths is vitally important.

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John‬ ‭8:32‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic; they both worship one supreme being–Islam worships Allah (“god” in Arabic) and Christianity the triune God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They both have a book that directs their faithful; Islam has the Koran, Christianity the Bible. And they both believe in a judgment and in eternal life. But here the similarities end.

Even though the Koran has retained parts of both the Old and New Testaments, it adds what it’s followers believe is the final revelation of God. Muslims repeatedly contend that the Christian Scriptures have been corrupted, and therefore where earlier Biblical portions contradict what they believe to be the final revelation according to Muhammad, the latter is to be followed. Christians, on the other hand, believe that because the entire Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God–and because He neither makes mistakes nor changes His mind–Genesis is every bit as true as Revelations, and as such, greater weight is not given to subsequent portions over former ones–it is all God’s Word. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:21‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

But what, really, is the difference between the two faiths? Is there a chance the Biblical God really did  “add on” to His Word as found in the Bible and that the Koran is right? Do we all basically worship the same God? Or is there something so fundamentally different between the two faiths that Islam cannot be rightly understood to simply be the updated version of Christianity?

We live in an apostate culture that generally rejects the spiritual altogether, so when we see someone worshipping even a god substantially different from ours we tend to either think it a good thing (as opposed to atheism, agnosticism, or general spiritual indifference), or we may even be tempted to extrapolate that we are all really worshipping the same God. But this is simply not true. Any shortfall of a knowledge of the true God–of the repentance and forgiveness He gives only through the second person of the Triune God, the holy God-made-human-being Jesus Christ whom He sent–leaves a person still condemned before God and completely dead in their trespasses and sins. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (‭Acts‬ ‭4:12‬)

There are multiple problems with accepting the premise that the Koran is a “corrected” version of Christianity–that God gave further revelation beyond the Old and New Testsments of the Bible. 1) The first one is that God neither makes mistakes, nor changes His mind. “God is not a human being, and he will not lie. He is not a human, and he does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he makes come true.” (Numbers‬ ‭23:19‬ ‭NCV‬‬)  His revelation is consistent, rendering it one of the foremost methods of evaluating the veracity of any new teaching–does it conflict with the revealed Word of God?

2) Another problem with accepting Islam as Christianity 1.2 is that because God is God He is, furthermore, fully capable of preserving His message of forgiveness and salvation through Christ uncorrupted throughout the ages. We clearly see one unifying theme in all of Scripture, and that is that it is our human nature, not God’s Word, that is corrupted.

3) Which leads us to the most serious problem with accepting Islam as a continuation of the revelation of God–it doesn’t “correct” anything; it denies and shifts completely away from the entire message of the Bible, which is Christ! The Old Testament, you see, sets the stage and points to our need for Christ Jesus; the New Testament reveals Him. God Himself had to step in and do what mankind could not–He had to take on Himself the penalty for our sins and in exchange attribute to us His holiness through faith in Him. That is the entire message of the Bible–Christ, and Christ alone. “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians‬ ‭1:27‬)

Scripture explicitly says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV) Jesus Himself said, “if you do not believe that I am he [the word “he” is not in the original Greek text], you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:24) Jesus also said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you [the Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The apostle John explains, “This is what God told us: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John‬ ‭5:11-12‬ ‭NCV‬‬) Forgiveness of sins and eternal life come through Jesus and Him alone. The Koran erroneously asserts Jesus didn’t claim divinity, much less that salvation is through faith in His finished work on the cross; hope of eternal life in the Islamic faith is predicated on the performance of sufficient righteous acts. Yet even that is uncertain for a Muslim; unless he dies fighting for the cause of Islam, he has no assurance of Paradise. Those who follow Christ, however, can have assurance of salvation; the Bible clearly states, “I write this letter to you who believe in the Son of God so you will know you have eternal life.” (‭‭1 John‬ ‭5:13‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Not only that, but Christians also have confidence to approach God. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. [Because Jesus was perfect on our behalf] Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:14-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬) 

Yet perhaps the most striking difference between Christianity and Islam is that between grace and law–the freedom we have in Christ to grow and become everything He wants us to be in true holiness–to become fully conformed to His character. God gives us grace freely through Christ; Islam requires rigid performance. The prescriptions for a faithful Muslim are many and must be carefully and faithfully followed–and in many parts of the Muslim world the consequences for disobedience are severe.

In the end, we really do need to determine whom it is we are worshipping. Does our god exhibit the very human qualities of changing his mind? Can he not preserve the written record of His Word inviolate without corruption or distortion? The Koran so substantially alters the message of the Bible as to present a teaching completely and irreconcilably foreign to it. It would have us accept that the God who gave the Law in the Old Testament to show humankind its incapacity for true holiness on its own, and provided the remedy through Christ in the New Testament, now has regressed back to a works-based salvation in which you can never be sure you have done enough?! This is exactly what the church in Galatia was reproached for:

“You people in Galatia were told very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But you were foolish; you let someone trick you. Tell me this one thing: How did you receive the Holy Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the Good News and believed it. You began your life in Christ by the Spirit. Now are you trying to make it complete by your own power? That is foolish. Were all your experiences wasted? I hope not! Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, he does these things because you heard the Good News and believed it. The Scriptures say the same thing about Abraham: ‘Abraham believed God, and God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God.’ So you should know that the true children of Abraham are those who have faith. The Scriptures, telling what would happen in the future, said that God would make the non-Jewish people right through their faith. This Good News was told to Abraham beforehand, as the Scripture says: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So all who believe as Abraham believed are blessed just as Abraham was. But those who depend on following the law to make them right are under a curse, because the Scriptures say, ‘Anyone will be cursed who does not always obey what is written in the Book of the Law.’ Now it is clear that no one can be made right with God by the law, because the Scriptures say, ‘Those who are right with God will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith. It says, ‘A person who obeys these things will live because of them.’ Christ took away the curse the law put on us. He changed places with us and put himself under that curse. It is written in the Scriptures, ‘Anyone whose body is displayed on a tree is cursed.’ Christ did this so that God’s blessing promised to Abraham might come through Jesus Christ to those who are not Jews. Jesus died so that by our believing we could receive the Spirit that God promised.” (Galatians 3:1-14, NCV)

Dear Lord Jesus Christ,

Help me know the truth, and help it set me free! Amen.





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Mark 4:9

Do you ever think how big God really is, and how comparatively small our understanding of everything He tells us in His Word–about the world around us and spiritual truths and eternity–tends to be?  Certainly “…God has revealed them to us through His Spirit,” (I Corinthians 2:10), yet for many of us we still don’t seem to righly grasp  the full extent of everything God has revealed to us through Christ in Scripture.

And He said to them, ‘He who has [spiritual] ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Mark‬ ‭4:9‬)

The problem is that the ears of most people are remarkably dull. It really is as Jesus said–“…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:13‬ ) They might have heard Bible stories since childhood, but that is what they remain–stories. Even those of us who know and love Jesus can sometimes fail to appreciate the full magnitude of everything we have in Christ, of everything we will someday see and understand completely. We really are “looking through a glass dimly” as St. Paul describes, and the reality Jesus wants us to understand is as far away from our perception of it as quantum gravity, multiple dimensions, and condensed matter physics are from the ABC’s.

Let’s take a look at something He said:

“Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:40-44‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This sounds almost silly to us today, but what Jesus is conveying is that those who miss out will experience the deepest possible expression of remorse and regret upon finally, but belatedly, recognizing the full extent of the truth–and what they are now irrevocably precluded from.

The thing is that God–and everything He wants His people to know–is so much greater than we typically imagine. You’ve heard the saying, “Your God is too small?” Obviously, it isn’t God who is too small; it is our love of Him and our desire to know Him better that is too small–our willingness to devote ourselves to fully and adequately comprehend everything He says!

Years ago I had a picture of a cross-section of an iceberg in water–you can see the part above the water line, and the so-much-more-than-you-ever-imagined part below. It’s the same with the physical and spiritual. We know the physical because our bodies are physical–we live and breathe and exist in them every day. But there is also the spiritual–the part God makes alive in us when we trust in and submit to Christ, the part His Spirit in us interacts with, the part that will survive the physical death of our body, the part that is so much larger than the mere physical as the above-water iceberg is than the part below! 

I am thoroughly convinced once we leave our bodies we will understand, but by then it will be too late. So how should we respond? 

We must respond by fixing  “…our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬) We live in these bodies and in this world, but we are not of this world. And, we must, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:14‬) Pursuing is active–it requires effort on our part. Are you really pursuing God?

This fall our youngest daughter started ninth grade at a local private school, and even though she is not a boarding student the tuition is substantial. But because I believe it is to her benefit to be able to attend I am pursuing every avenue I know to figure out how I can pull the funds together, month by month, for her to be able to do so. That is pursuing–it’s going after something you value, something you really want, with all you’ve got, just like the man who sold all he had to get the priceless jewel. That is how we should be pursuing Jesus and His holiness!

But do we? Or do we, more often than not, run after the physical and ignore the spiritual? Remember–what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal!
Dear Lord, 
Help us fix “…our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Amen!

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Hebrew 9:27

Have you ever heard of Blaise Pascal’s Wager? According to Wikipedia, it “is an argument in philosophy devised by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623–62)” which “posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not.” And because this argument is so well-presented by Douglas Groothius, in his excellent Apologetics textbook Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, I will be quoting him extensively today.

“..,it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭9:27‬ )

Pascal presents, with superb logic, the ramifications of both belief and disbelief in God. He asserts that probabilistically there are four possible outcomes: 1) God is real and I believe; 2) God is real and I disbelieve; 3) God is not real and I believe, and 4) God is not real and I disbelieve. He posits the outcomes of all four possibilities.

1) If God is real and I believe, “there is much to gain and little of ultimate importance to lose…he is speaking of the eternal state of the believer, who dwells with God in a restored creation with all the redeemed. We may add to this the benefit of knowing the truth in this life and receiving the divine blessings of a restored relationship with God and the privilege of seeking and serving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…he or she also escapes hell…moreover…he or she also becomes an instrument of truth and goodness in the world in a way not otherwise possible.” (Douglas Groothius, “Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith”)

2) If God is real and I disbelieve, however, “there is much to lose and little of final importance to gain.” (Groothius) The ramifications of erroneously disbelieving are severe: not only do I miss out on a relationship with God in this life, I will spend eternity in hell. 

3) If, on the other hand, God is not real and I believe, I have perhaps missed out on some fleeting pleasures in this life while living a godly life, but suffer no ultimate eternal loss because there is none.

4) And, of course, if God is not real and I disbelieve–well, I can perhaps say I was right, but not much else.

To again quite Groothius: “If Christianity is true, the prudential [common sense] benefits for believing (eternal life) far exceed those offered by believing in atheism or any other worldview (finite pleasures). The prudential detriment of not believing Christianity is true (loss of eternal life; gaining if hell) also far outweigh the detriments of not believing atheism or another other worldview if the non-Christian view is true (loss of some finite pleasures). Pascal is right to affirm that eternal bliss outweighs any finite good, and eternal loss is far worse than mere extinction.”

In other words, there’s far less of consequence to lose if you incorrectly believe in God were it to turn out He doesn’t exist–you’ve lived a moral decent life–than to not believe in Him were it to turn out He is real–you’ve ignored Him and now you’re going to hell.

Some, of course, might argue that the safest option is agnosticism–to delay a choice, to choose not to choose. But, Pascal argues, doing so has the same practical effect as disbelieving. “In other words, not to believe in Christianity, either as a committed unbeliever or as agnostic, means to forfeit the benefits promised only to the believer (eternal life), should Christianity be true. Deciding not to choose has the same result as not believing in God.” (Groothius) 

Choosing either to not believe or to suspend judgment has very serious eternal and irrevocable consequences if you are wrong–you’re betting on God not existing, but if you’re wrong, the consequences are far more severe than believing if God isn’t real. Alternately, if you’re right, you stand to gain so much.

You see, God IS real, but the benefits of Christianity are given only to those who take the word of the many who were there, believe that God Himself provided what was necessary to remedy the damage sin has worked in us, and come to Jesus Christ in faith and obedience and commit their eternal destinies to Him.

But what should a person do if they would possibly consider the Christian faith, were it not for some “emotional dispositions, fears or loves that keep us from seriously considering this alternative?”(Groothius) Because, honestly, this is what keeps many from coming to Jesus.

Maybe there is a sin they don’t want to give up, maybe they’re afraid they’ll lose control and don’t know God enough yet to trust He won’t ruin their life. Maybe they know church-goers who have blurred the lines between Biblical truth and personal opinion, and what they think is of God are only the teachings of man. Maybe they’ve been exposed to people who call themselves Christian but haven’t given up racial prejudices. Maybe they are having a hard time reconciling the Biblical message with what they’re being taught in school, or what’s going on culturally around them. Maybe they think educated people don’t believe in God and that religion is superstition. Maybe they think it’s God versus science and don’t get it that not only is scientific inquiry legitimate, but that God put it all together to begin with, and holds it all together in a way that far surpasses any stereotype–and is, in fact, the actual source of it all to begin with!

Pascal’s answer to someone like this is that they should give themselves a chance to know God personally:

“I should have given [I would give up] up a life of pleasure,” they say, “if I had faith.” But I tell you: “You would soon have faith if you gave up a life of pleasure [you’ll see God is real if you give up the bad things in your life]. Now it is up to you to begin. If I could give you faith, I would. But I cannot, nor can I test the truth of what you say, but you can easily give up your pleasure and test whether I am telling the truth.

Groothius indicates, “…the investigation of Christianity should also include exposure to its public expression, its forms and practices…As Pascal observed, these activities (along with rational reflection [taking the time to think through what God says]) may help one truly discern the state of one’s own soul before God and the glories of the Christian revelation itself.” (Groothius) 

In order to rightly evaluate the claims of God we must first 1) pull away from the bad things in our life and then 2) immerse ourselves in the good things–the full scope of Christian life. Then–and only then–we will be in a fair position to evaluate.

Let’s read what Simon Peter, one of the original twelve disciples who was there and saw it all, wrote about all of the things they were telling people about Jesus:

“When we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling just clever stories that someone invented. But we saw the greatness of Jesus with our own eyes. Jesus heard the voice of God, the Greatest Glory, when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with him.” We heard that voice from heaven while we were with Jesus on the holy mountain. This makes us more sure about the message the prophets  gave. It is good for you to follow closely what they said as you would follow a light shining in a dark place, until the day begins and the morning star rises in your hearts. Most of all, you must understand this: No prophecy in the Scriptures ever comes from the prophet’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever came from what a person wanted to say, but people led by the Holy Spirit spoke words from God.”‭‭ (2 Peter‬ ‭1:16-21‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Dear God,

Please show Yourself to be true to me! Amen. 

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 I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Is your life hard right now? When you look at others, do you sometimes wonder why they’re not struggling like you are, why things seem to be going better for them? Worse than that, are your disappointments and difficulties causing you to start questioning God–whether He really loves you, whether He’s seeing what’s happening, whether He even cares?

“Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.” (‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

God definitely sees what’s going on with us, He loves us, and He cares. But we sometimes misunderstand our relationship with Him. He is the God of the universe and beyond. He does not exist for us, to grant our every wish; we exist for Him, to serve Him, worship Him and glorify Him. He is the Lord and Master of all, and this means He gets to do (or allow) things in our  life as He sees fit, and He doesn’t have to answer to us, or explain why. Job, who lost wealth, children, and his health, didn’t get an explanation; we may not either. What Job did get, however, was a better understanding of God and his relationship to Him:

“Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. 

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ 

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! 

“Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced! 

“Have you visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail? (I have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war.) Where is the path to the source of light? Where is the home of the east wind? 

“Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up? 

“Does the rain have a father? Who gives birth to the dew? Who is the mother of the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes. 

“Can you direct the movement of the stars— binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? Can you direct the constellations through the seasons or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? “Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct? Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods?

“…Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?”” (‭‭Job‬ ‭38:1-33‬, 40:2 NLT)‬‬

God says so much more, but Job understood, and we must too.

God does love us–more than our human minds can fully comprehend:

“We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan. God knew them before he made the world, and he chose them to be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. God planned for them to be like his Son; and those he planned to be like his Son, he also called; and those he called, he also made right with him; and those he made right, he also glorified. So what should we say about this? If God is for us, no one can defeat us. He did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all. So with Jesus, God will surely give us all things. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one, because God is the One who makes them right. Who can say God’s people are guilty? No one, because Christ Jesus died, but he was also raised from the dead, and now he is on God’s right side, appealing to God for us. Can anything separate us from the love Christ has for us? Can troubles or problems or sufferings or hunger or nakedness or danger or violent death? But in all these things we are completely victorious through God who showed his love for us. Yes, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor ruling spirits, nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us, nothing below us, nor anything else in the whole world will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:28-35, 37-39‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

“God planned for them to be like His Son.” The reason God allows disappointments and difficulties into our lives is to conform us to the image of Christ–to make us more like Jesus. 

“God is the One who made all things, and all things are for his glory. He wanted to have many children share his glory, so he made the One who leads people to salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Jesus was perfected through suffering, and we are too. Remember that the Father “…cuts off every branch in…[Christ] that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (‭‭John‬ ‭15:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬) The pruning hurts and we would prefer not to experience it, but it is exactly this which perfects us.

And that is why we are instructed to, “Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.” (‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

The truth is that your life may be hard now; others might really be having an easier time of it. But rest assured that God has a plan and He knows what He’s doing. 

So how should we respond? Should we complain and grumble and accuse God of not having our well-being at heart? Should we be ungrateful like the Israelites who didn’t trust His purposes and provision in their lives, and were judged for it? Or, should we understand that “…our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” and “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:17-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Dear Lord,

Help me not grumble, but give thanks in all things! Amen.

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