Monday, March 28, 2011

The Defeat Of Death


May the word of God be on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts, amen.

Come Holy Spirit....

My hometown suffered a horrible tragedy over the weekend. Four students, all seniors at the local high school, were killed in a horrific car crash while returning home from Spring break. The driver of the other vehicle was also killed.  I join my prayers with so many others for the repose of their souls, and for their family and friends left behind, in Jesus' Name, amen.

The following verse immediately came to mind when I heard the horrible news:

1 Corinthians 15

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”g

55“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O grave, is your sting?”h

56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Herein lies the truth of our reality. We are supernatural beings having a temporarily natural existence. For those who believe, Jesus Christ defeated death's power over us. It means nothing! Thanks to Jesus Christ, where is death's victory over us? Where is the sting of the grave?

You see, death is not the final word. It is not the end. It is only the beginning of our eternal life with Christ Jesus for those who believe in Him. The Bible often refers to those who died as merely "sleeping." And just like someone who sleeps, we will wake up to spend eternity with God. And let's face it, heaven is a far better place to spend your time than earth is!

Do you think the souls that are in heaven are sad about it? The Bible says there are no tears in heaven, and no pain, so the answer is a resounding no! Those who have died are happier than they have ever been, far moreso than when they were stuck on earth. We are the only one who are crying for them. 

That's not to say that crying for a departed loved one is wrong. It is normal to miss someone during the time they are away. Even Jesus wept when He heard His friend Lazarus had died, and Jesus went ahead and raised him from the dead! So even knowing Lazarus could be revived, the Lord still wept. 

However, we must remember that we will see our loved ones again, someday, and when that day arrives, we will never be separated again. That's right, we'll be together for all of eternity, in the day in which there is no dawning, and no sunset. No pain, and no tears. Oh death, where indeed is your victory? Oh grave, where indeed is your sting? You have been utterly defeated by Jesus Christ. Death, you have no victory over us. You are merely a transition to our eternal reward. 

This is also important to remember when we start to wonder how God could allow someone to die, especially if they are young. Look at it from God's perspective. He gave up His Son so that death would have no power over us. So to Him, allowing someone to die is not a punishment, but a reward. They are being taken to their eternal reward, a place far greater than a mortal life on earth. So how is that a bad thing? Some say, "Well I needed them more than God does." God wants you to need Him more, to lean on Him in this life even more. Your loved one is receiving their reward, in the meantime, lean more heavily on God and Jesus Christ until you are finally reunited. 

The victory over death does not just apply to those who die in faith, but to those left behind for a few more years, or decades. We can take solace in knowing where our loved ones are, and that we must keep (and practice) our faith to ensure that we join them when our time comes.  

May God bless you all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Praise the Lord!

I want to give thanks and praise the Lord for the success of this blog, so far. As of today, my blog has been read by people in 9 countries besides the United States, including Hungary, Indonesia, The Philippines, India, Australia, and parts of Europe. In just over 2 months, this blog has been viewed 650 times.

Thanks be to God for all of this, as it grew much faster than I ever expected. And, certainly, thank all of YOU for taking the time to read it!!!!!

God bless!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Recent Increase In Ancient Abominations To The Lord


May the word of the Lord be in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. 

Come Holy Spirit.....

A blessed evening to one and all, thank you for joining me tonight. As I sit here typing this, the full
"Supermoon" is shining like a large flashlight outside of my window. It is called a Supermoon because it is the closest the moon has been to earth since 1993, a phenomenon that happens every 17 years or so. It is truly beautiful. St. Francis of Assisi often called the moon, "Sister Moon." (Along with "Brother Sun.") Francis saw God in all of creation.

I am troubled, however, as right now, as I type this, Pagans and Wiccans are performing rituals, spells, etc. underneath this moon, believing it will increase the power of their so-called magic. Tomorrow night, when the Vernal Equinox occurs, they will also be engaging in their rituals. 

Wiccans, Pagans, and other "earth-based" religions take their beliefs far beyond what St. Francis and others have done. They treat the earth, the moon and so forth as their God, deriving power from them and worshiping them, along with false gods and goddesses, rather than crediting the One True God with creation of everything seen and unseen. They also engage in things such as divination, sorcery, fortune telling, speaking with the dead, etc. Most witches and warlocks will tell you they practice "white magic" and are not affiliated with Satan, and therefore these activities are harmless. Some will even try to "cleanse" people and places of demons. 

It's been reported that in recent years, there has been an increase in pagan and Wiccan participation, or at least in the interest of it. New Age is another name for some of these practices. Psychics and mediums are all over TV and in the media, as well. And astronomy is, sadly, still very popular.

So, does the fact that they are not "Satanic" really absolve Wiccans and pagans of any sin? Here is what God says about these practices:

"I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people."

"When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so."

"Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities."

"Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.

It is obvious how the Lord views all of these practices. They are "detestable," and some translations call them "abominations" to the Lord. And in the book of Acts, we see that one poor girl's "psychic abilities" came from a demon, no less.

Pagan and Wiccan practices will be at an all time high, this weekend, due to the "Supermoon" and Vernal Equinox both occurring. We must pray for them, so that they will receive the Holy Spirit and see the error of their ways, and stop engaging in practices that are detestable to the Lord. 

What about the rest of us? Those that call ourselves Christians? How often do we take part in some of these activities? We may not be crafting spells and magic, but what about using mediums and psychics to contact the dead? Or consulting astronomy to supposedly see our future?  As we read in the bible, all are detestable to the Lord. 

It's sad that so many people are turning away from the Lord and turning to these New Age/Pagan/Wiccan belief systems. And the Lord is sad about it, as He does not want this for His children. Satan is certainly behind the temptation to engage in these practices, because Satan will use anything that God detests as a weapon against Him and His people, and to turn us away from God. Pagans were among the very first enemies of the early Christian Church, so Satan has been using this false religion as a weapon against us for millennia. 

Another danger: Those who study supernatural events (sometimes called "paranormal") will tell you that reaching out to supernatural forces that do not belong to God is inviting them into your life and even your body. Demons do not just randomly attack people, there has to be an opening for them. By engaging in occult activities, you are placing a target on your back for demons. Many church teachers now also agree with this assessment. 

So, what about the witches and warlocks who try to "cleanse" someone from demons, using their white magic, rather than the name of Jesus Christ? I have personal experience with this, actually.

I am friends with a girl who used to be a Wiccan. Her fiance' seemed to be possessed at some point in time. She, and other witches, tried using white magic to cleanse him from the demon. The demon did leave him, but they heard the demon say, "I'll be back for him." Later, her fiance' and her were supposed to leave together in the car. She told me there was an unexplained force that physically prevented her from getting into the car with him. She just could not get into it. He could, and so he left on his own. As he was driving, for reasons authorities were never able to ascertain, he was killed in a one car accident. The demon kept it's promise. My friend left Wicca and started to get back to Christianity. Only God and Jesus have permanent power over demons and devils, no other sources of so-called power can do it. 

Along with the aforementioned increase in New Age/Pagan/Occult religions, there has been enough of an increase in reports of demonic possessions that the Roman Catholic Church has called for an increase in exorcists world-wide. This is not a coincidence, trust me. 

We must combat this increase in occult activity with fervent prayers of our own, and  we must guard against the temptations to engage in even so-called "minor" practices that stem from these beliefs. 

I pray that the Lord cleanses our world of all demonic activity, and that the Holy Spirit enters the hearts of those are have been lead astray by Satan's lies, so that they will reject him and the religions he tempts them with, in Jesus' Holy Name, amen.

Godspeed, everyone.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Scriptural Basis for Lent


May the word of the Lord be in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. 

Come Holy Spirit.....

I wish a blessed and holy Ash Wednesday to you all. This begins the Lenten season, the 40 days of spiritual preparation for Easter.  

Some Christians do not participate in Lent, or at least not in the sacrificial way that most are familiar with. They might take part in receiving ashes today, and might do something for Good Friday, but in between it's pretty business-as-usual for some Christians. So, why do so many of us engage in sacrifices for Lent, such as fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and giving something up in our lives for the 40 days in between? (Sundays are a perpetual feast day as the Sabbath, so the sacrifices of Lent are not done on the Sundays of Lent.) 

Well, the concept comes from Holy Scripture, inspired by the acts of Jesus, Himself, and then His Apostles. 

Matthew 4 (NIV)

The Temptation of Jesus
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’a
5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’b
7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’c
8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’d
11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Matthew 6:16-18 (New International Version, ©2011)

(This is Jesus speaking)
    16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Luke 2:37
Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.

Acts 13:3
So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. (NLT)

Acts 14:23
Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. (NLT)

As you can see, the practice of fasting is very common theme in the New Testament. But the sacrifices of the 40 days of Lent are directly inspired by Christ's very own experience in the desert, where he did not eat or drink for 40 days and was tempted by the devil afterward. 

If Christ, Himself, who is perfect and without any sin, was lead by the Holy Spirit to fast for 40 days and be tempted, who are we sinners to think we do not need the same spiritual practice? He then goes on to instruct how we are to fast, by appearing as if we are not fasting, so that only God knows what we are doing. 

We also see that whenever the Apostles needed wisdom, they fasted and prayed, first. 

Both Christ and the Apostles engaged in this sacrifice as preparation for something bigger, and to strengthen themselves, spiritually, for their service to the Lord. 

And Matthew 6:16-18 shows that God clearly is pleased with us when we fast for Him, for He rewards us for doing so, says Jesus. 

During the 40 days of Lent (the 40 days, of course, are to mimic Jesus' time in the desert)  most people do not literally go without food and water. The number 40 in the bible is used repeatedly to mean a long period of time. It is not likely exact. While Jesus was divine, He was also human, and no one can live that long without water, and no food would be pushing it. (Even if Jesus miraculously did literally survive 40 days with no water or food, which is always possible, we cannot.) 

Instead, we usually will fast on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and Good Friday, the end of Lent. Most churches definition of fasting includes water, but limits us to one regular meal, with 2 snacks, during those 24 hours. 

But, you'll notice that the Apostles didn't just fast, they also prayed at the same time. Lent is the perfect time to increase your praying, or your bible reading, or maybe increasing your almsgiving. After 40 days of this, your new spiritual practices will have become a habit, and your spiritual life will be better for it, and the Lord will be pleased. 

And this is what the end result of the Lenten season is about. Increasing our spiritual life, strengthening our spirituality, increasing our love and service for the Lord, and pleasing God as Christ asked us to do. 

After Lent comes Easter, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and our new life! The introduction of life after death (eternal life) is manifested for the first time thanks to Christ's resurrection, hallelujah! But our spiritual life does not end there. We must prepare ourselves for the miracle of Easter, and, more importantly, prepare ourselves for the spiritual warfare against Satan, who will constantly tempt us, just as he did to Jesus following His time fasting in the desert. 

Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed those 40 days to prepare Himself for the temptations of Satan and to continue His public ministry. We, who are sinners, are in even greater need of this spiritual exercise if we are to resist the devil and his temptations in our lives. Lent is here to not only please the Lord, but to make us spiritually stronger. 

How does it do this? It brings us closer to God, by eliminating anything that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. He becomes the focus of our days, He becomes our solace, not food, television, etc. Those worldly things cannot do for us what God does, and we should rely on Him more than things such as those. What else might stand between you and God? Gossiping? Swearing? Complaining? Resentment? Lent is a perfect time to "fast" from those things, as well. The barrenness of Lent, just like the barrenness of the desert, eliminates anything that could possibly stand between us and God, and thereby bring us closer to Him and more reliant on Him, rather than worldly things.  

After reading all the scripture references to fasting, and reading about Christ's 40 days in the desert, no Christian should be able to say, "I don't practice Lent." Jesus practiced the first Lent in the desert. None of us can claim we don't need to, ourselves. 

On this holy Ash Wednesday, please consider fasting, and consider giving something up in sacrifice to the Lord for the next 40 days between now and Good Friday. And increase your prayers and bible reading, as well. Help our brothers and sisters in this world who need it the most. Start new habits that will stay with you the remainder of the year. (And hopefully the rest of your life.) It is a spiritual exercise that even our Lord went through, and encouraged us to do, and His Apostles also did. How much more do we need the benefits of the sacrifices of Lent?  To think we don't need to, when they did, is arrogant. Or to simply "not want to" is spiritual laziness. Maybe that arrogance or spiritual laziness is something we need to give up for Lent this year.  It's a good start.

Godspeed during this holy Lenten season.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Most Misquoted and Misused Bible Verse Of All Time


May the word of the Lord be in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. 

Come Holy Spirit.....

How often have you heard somebody blurt out the words, "Judge not lest ye be judged?" And that's all they quote, of course. And it is almost always after someone has corrected them for sinning. "Judge not lest ye be judged" is easily the most misquoted and misused bible verse of all time. And I don't think think God is very happy with that, as it is clouding what it actually is He is asking us to do as a Christian community.

Here is the verse in it's entirety:

Matthew 7 (NIV version)

Judging Others
 1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
   3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 

The entire teaching takes up 5 verses, but probably 99% of people stop quoting at verse 1. It's like their "get out of jail free" card when they are caught sinning by another person. 
But look at the teaching in it's full context, which is the way Jesus spoke it. Noticed how it changes at verse 3? Verse 5 gives us the true meaning of this teaching. Jesus is teaching against hypocrisy, not judgment! This is why he says, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Jesus did not say, "do not attempt to remove the speck from your brother's eye." He is saying, take care of our sin first, so that we may more clearly see to help our brother. For example, how can I help my friend or family member stop lying so much, if I am committing adultery, myself? My sin is clouding my judgment, and is making me a hypocrite, as I am committing a form of lying, as well as the sin, itself. 

If anything, Scripture teaching us that rebuking sinners is expected of us, by God: 

1 Timothy 5: 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

Titus 1: 13This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith

Titus 2: 15These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

2 Timothy 4: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

I deliberately included the rest of the teaching of 2 Timothy 4 as it is a great teaching, full of wisdom that applies today as well as it did 2,000 years ago. 

So, what does it mean to "rebuke?" 
–verb (used with object)
to express sharp, stern disapproval of; reprove; reprimand.
sharp, stern disapproval; reproof; reprimand.

So, we have at least 4 bible verses telling us to rebuke those who sin, and when you see the entire context of the famous "Judge not lest ye be judged" verse, it is clear what God's instructions for us really are. I will repeat one important portion of 2 Timothy 4, however: "correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction."

God does want us to see the best in everybody else, I feel, and to give people the benefit of the doubt. After all, we do not know their whole story, and we are certainly not sinless, ourselves. We have planks in our own eyes, as Jesus called it, that must be dealt with and removed first. So none of us can take a holier-than-thou attitude towards anyone else. We are all wretched sinners. But, we are very much are called to correct one another and to encourage against sinning with "great patience and understanding." And it makes perfect sense for God to expect us to do this for each other. Why? Because we do it out of love. We are supposed to love one another, that is one of the Greatest Commandments (see my earlier blog entry on those.) Sin is harmful to us, and to our relationship with the Lord. Therefore, if we truly love someone, should be not try to protect them from that which harms them? If someone is smoking, do we not try to encourage them to quit for their own good? And why do we care? Because we love them. Yet, smoking only harms their body. Sin harms their souls, which are eternal, not temporary, like their body. How much more important is it for us to encourage someone to not sin, then? But, if we were smokers, or even heavy drinkers or drug users, and then told someone not to smoke for their own good, we would then be hypocrites.

The Bible clearly shows, in verse after verse after verse, that we are to correct one another as an act of love. We are all brothers and sisters in this world, as well as in Christ. To not want to try to encourage someone to avoid sin would show a lack of love for that person and their spiritual well-being.

Some might (and will) say, "but aren't we all forgiven anyways? What does it matter? Christ forgave us, right?" 

That subject will likely be another blog entry in the future, but in short, just because Christ will forgive us when we repent and ask for forgiveness, does not mean we are free to sin as we please with no attempts to avoid it. What if we died before we "got around" to asking for that forgiveness for our most recent sins? And, back to the topic at hand, what if our brothers and sisters in Christ are not even aware they are sinning? Or are so used to it they don't even notice that they are sinning?  Much like a child who unknowingly is about to touch a hot stove, or walk out into a busy highway, we must stop them and correct them for their own good. After all, we are "our brother's keeper." 

Godspeed, everyone.

The New American Bible Translation

The New American Bible translation is set to be released on Ash Wednesday this week, in time for Lent. I am very excited to get a copy of this version of the bible, as it will reflect the most recent understanding of the ancient Biblical languages and apply them in a way that modern readers will easily understand. That hopefully means no more archaic words that no longer have the same meaning today as they did when originally written. If my wish has come true and they have replaced the word "fear" with "revere" I will truly be happy. (See one of my very first blog posts for more on that subject.)

You can pre-order a copy on now and have it shipped on Ash Wednesday, which is what I plan on doing. Lent will be a great time to study God's words even more than we usually do, and this new translation will make it even more enjoyable and revealing, I feel.  I will write more about the biblical basis for Lent later this week.