Debilitating Doubt

Where Doubt Hides

There’s a scene in the Left Behind movie series where the pastor is standing on the pulpit looking out into an empty congregation; the Rapture occurred and, believe it or not, he was…left behind! He goes through a monologue where He’s talking to God about “how could it be” that he would stand up there week after week and, of the whole congregation, the shepherd was the one who’s faith wasn’t genuine. As he’s reasoning with God, he comes to the understanding that, after all, “knowing and believing are two different things!”

Faith & Doubt

How many times have you found yourself in that very same situation: you read all the books, you can quote all the right verses and can argue with the greatest of Pharisees as well as the biblically uneducated; you’ve brought dozens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, you’re the head of a ministry, give regularly and with conviction and, when it’s all said and done, it all amounts to nothing more than mere religion. Somehow, everything you know to be true about God feels like “head knowledge” and that’s all! Of all the people around you, you’re the one with doubts and skepticism! How could it be? How did you get here?

[Tweet “you’ve led dozens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, you’re the head of a ministry, give regularly and with conviction and, when it’s all said and done, it all amounts to nothing more than mere religion.”]

Where Doubt Lives

Well, the simple answer is that we all get there from different directions: Peter and Thomas were there with Jesus during His earthly ministry, and even they doubted; what chances do we have of going through life free from the debilitating effects of doubt! It has been said that “If you’ve never doubted, then you never really believed in the first place”. If that isn’t just merely editorial, we must be in good company. Many of the great fathers of Apologetics began life as atheists, agnostics, deists, or came to Jesus from other belief systems. Men like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and Thomas Aquinas, to mention a few.

If you've never doubted, then you never really believed in the first place Click To Tweet

Forgiveness & Doubt

Unfortunately, being in good company doesn’t always make for a good party; surely Hell will be full of A-Listers but I doubt that any of them would choose to stay if given the choice to leave, no matter how many blue bloods are roasting with them. Knowing that Peter denied Jesus three times or that Thomas needed to put his finger in Jesus’ side before proclaiming “my Lord and my God”, does very little to shore up my standing during these moments of crisis.

Two thousand years later I have just as many questions as hairs on my head. If I can just go back in time a week or so before this thought pattern began; before I entertained any of these questions for longer than the 2 milliseconds that they are usually allowed to stick around for, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Luckily  Thankfully,  2,000 years ago, Jesus was thinking of messy, fickle humans like you and I and through us a lifeline. His reply to Thomas tells us what Jesus thinks of our faith; my faith and yours!

If I can just go back in time a week or so before this thought pattern began before I entertained any of these questions for longer than the 2 milliseconds that they are usually allowed to stick around for, I wouldn't be in this… Click To Tweet

Doubt’s Hindsight

How many of us say to ourselves: “if I had been in Peter’s or Thomas’ shoes, I wouldn’t have doubted as they did.” We think of ourselves as having more faith; or at least the sort of faith that would have believed under those circumstances! We’ll never know if that is true or; if permitted, we’ll have that answer as well on the other side of Eternity. Perhaps, it’s for the best that we were born when we were. After all, Jesus’ response to Thomas gives us lots of credit for fighting the good fight in our modern concrete jungles. in the very next verse, Jesus said,

Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. - John 20:29 Click To Tweet

In God’s eyes, our faith is stronger! We were given a different set of facts, a different set of signs and wonders than what the apostles were given. Granted, some of us may have very well seen the dead rise, or cancers cured or limbs grow back but, for the most part, our faith is based on personal experiences with the Word and its Truth working in our lives. The Apostles and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were there: the Apostles marveled in awe; the Pharisees pouted because He was healing on the Sabbath so it must have been from Beelzebub.

In the end, no amount of evidence convinced the large majority of Jesus’ countrymen that He was the Christ. Jesus himself said in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Stuart Chase, I believe, said it best when he commented that for those who believe, no proof is necessary, for those who don’t believe, no proof is possible”.

If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead. Click To Tweet

Today’s Doubters

As Christians, as humans, as thinkers, a bit of doubt and skepticism is par for the course. God invites us constantly and consistently to “reason together“; He is not afraid of your difficult questions and He’s certainly won’t be insulted that you have doubts. There’s no reason to keep your doubts to yourself and let them fester. Consider this: you’re keeping your doubts to yourself (not addressing them with God) because you don’t want to offend the same God that you doubt exists, or loves, or cares, or sees? If He’s real: He cares, He sees, He loves and is longing to address your needs; if He’s not real: the answers to your questions (along with the questions themselves) don’t matter.

[Tweet “Consider this: you’re keeping your doubts to yourself (not addressing them with God) because you don’t want to offend the same God that you doubt exists, or loves, or cares, or sees?”]

The future of Doubt: Faith

Dear friend, doubt is debilitating only if you let it. You’re not an atheist, believe me. You’re a thinker; you are who He created you to be. The God we serve is not a figment of our imagination: He doesn’t stop existing when we stop thinking about Him or have doubts; we serve Him still, in the doubt, through the doubt, in spite of the doubt and, just as important, because of our doubts. The biggest victories in my Christian walk always came after such moments; when God stepped into history, again, for me, and showed me just how real He really is. The only figments of imagination are, truly, us! We exist only because of Him. He constantly thinking of us, sustaining us, supplying life, and holding Nature together so that we may exist in it.

The biggest victories in my Christian walk always came after such moments; when God stepped into history, again, for me, and showed me just how real He really is. Click To Tweet

When Christians insult other Believers

When Christians insult other Believers

It seems these days that everyone around you keeps getting more and more thin-skinned. Total strangers get third-party offended. Family members that don’t like what you think of a particular behavior of theirs. Church members, deacons, and even pastors. None of them can take any criticism of anything they say or do with the same “sweet reasonableness” they preach that others should have (Phil 4:5). Needless to say that people are easily insulted these days and some make a profession of it. Now please understand that we are talking about Christians here.  Whether it is intentional or not Christians insult other Believers and, perhaps worse, Christians take offense at the words of other Believers.

Any cheek-turners in the room?

But what about Jesus, how did he handle Himself when people said unkind or insulting things about Him. Now, I’m not referring to the openly insulting statements that He received during His ministry, I’m referring to the little things along the way, the innuendos, the side jabs, the play on words, or simply the things that were not said in public where many would have heard and formed an opinion on. How did Jesus handle those?

The sin of sincerity

I’m sure our personal lives are full of instances where the words of other Christians have insulted us. By the same token, our own words have offended other Believers. Whether it was by sheer naivety or aimed with the intention to wound a friend, Christians have been as guilty at insulting other Believers as the “general population”. Fortunately, not many of Christiandom’s foot-in-mouth instances have been recorded in the annals of history. That is of course with the exception of the Biblical record.

One such comment that comes to mind is when Philip went and told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah. Philip told him that His name of Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathaniel, thought to himself and said the first thing that came to his mind and said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth”? When he finally came to Jesus, the Master turned and said to him, “Behold! An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”. Not only did Jesus know what Nathaniel had said and not only did He not take offense but rather commended Nathaniel for his sincerity of heart. You see, Nathaniel had his doubts. His doubts were sincere but he still had enough hunger for the Truth to go and find out for himself. When he finally arrived where Jesus was and heard Him say two things. He heard Him say that only was there no guile in him but He was aware of him under the fig tree beforehand, Nathaniel suddenly realized that he was in the presence of God.

Sincerity as a lifestyle

A little background may be called for. Why would Nathaniel blurt out at Philip’s announcement of the Messiah cause offense? In the Jewish custom of the time “nothing good could come from Nazareth”. This was a widespread proverb and this was for two particular reasons. Reasons that are intertwined and, if Jesus was and considered Himself a prophet, He should’ve known better. His (supposed) Nazarene pedigree would automatically bar Him from being considered a prophet by any self-respecting Jew.

The hometown of the thick-skinned

For starters, Nazareth is in Galilee. That’s significant because its border country. Samaria (of the Samaritans) is just southwest of Galilee. Nazareth was a fairly large commercial center. It would have lots of gentile influences (Greeks, Samaritans, Phoenicians, and all manner of other pagan cultural influences). Seeing as Galilee shared a northern border with Phoenicia (of the Syro-Phoenician woman) with cities such as Tyre and Sidon that, although had long outlived their glory days, were still important regional ports of call.

 

Palestine in the time of Jesus

Galilee was not the ideal breeding ground for prophets. With such strong gentile influence,  complicated allegiances to God, Israel, and Rome,  Temple Jews considered Galilee to be a backwater sort of place. Far removed from the Temple cult of Jehovah. The Galileans’ tolerance for outsiders living and working among them made them, for the most part in the eyes of the Temple Jews, ritually unclean. By definition unfit for the office of prophet. This confluence of worldviews created a a “peculiar” people. Galileans were comfortable with speaking their minds and quite accustomed to hearing seemingly controversial comments. The insults and comments simply rolled off their back. It’s the biblical equivalent to being a new yorker. If we were to take offense at everything a stranger said, we would never make it past getting the car out of the parking spot.

Biblical backwater

Along similar lines, in all the history of the law and the Prophets, not one single prophet had ever come from Nazareth. The great majority of them were of Judean descent and many of them with traceable Davidic and/or royal lineage. Jesus, in their eyes, therefore seemingly lacked both the proper stock as well as the correct birthplace to hold such office, whether it be prophet or Messiah.

Surely Jesus was well-aware of the cultural and religious stigma that came from being a Galilean. Although not recorded in the Gospels, many others would have already said or thought such things. Both before then and afterward. However, Jesus was able to see into Nathaniel’s heart and saw the sincere heart-cry of a Seeker. It was  “credited to him as righteousness“. When Philip came to Nathaniel he made specific references to the Law and the Prophets. Surely referring to the countless conversations they had together in the past. Perhaps they scoured the Scriptures together looking for a sign. I imagine many other would-be prophets and Messiahs had come before. As history tells us, many of them and their followers ended up dispersed, discredited, or dead.

An insult revisited

With all of this in mind we can take a fresh look at Nathaniel’s question. It was part incredulous and part hopeful. Nathaniel was open to the idea. He was also hopeful that he had misread or misunderstood something in the Scriptures. He hoped that with a sincere heart he had been sincerely wrong before. Perhaps the time had come for them to finally find the Messiah. Hopefully, to be found by the Messiah.

Jesus revealed to him the condition of his heart. He was perplexed. He asked “how do you know me”? Skipping the actual question  He replies, paraphrasing, “not only do I know you, I even saw you under the fig tree”! Typical Jesus style. What Nathaniel responds tells us a lot about the situation that we, at first glance, are not aware of directly.

Low-lying fruit

Here’s the low-lying fruit here (pun intended). The fig tree must have been out of the line of sight for Jesus. It must have been hidden from from His view. Possibly over a hill or around a bend or something of that nature.  From this Nathaniel would see two things. Not only was the man before Him master over men’s inner thoughts but the forces (read “laws”) of nature. Jesus had correctly identified his internal personal state and his specific geographic location. His thoughts and location would only have been known to Philip.

Foregoing what else Jesus tells the men there assembled about what else they will see and hear in the times to come, we learn a few things about both Nathaniel and the heart of Jesus.  Nathaniel’s eagerness and thirst for Truth pays off. His first answer is a resounding “yes!”. Good things can come out of Nazareth. By association, good things can come from Galilee. Specifically, Jesus and His motley crew of friends. Those men would go on to change history. He also answers his second question. Jesus knows Nathaniel (read your own name there) like a “wheel within a wheel”. Jesus knows our innermost workings even when we are not aware of Him.

Insult, the teacher

Perhaps the most astounding discovery we can take away is His early interaction with His disciples. We see that Jesus is available for questioning. We will study in upcoming posts the way Jesus responds to other sorts of inquiries. Here, we are assured that Jesus does not turn away anyone searching with all their heart (Jer 29:13). Also, He answers the underlying question regardless of presentation. Jesus has no interest in form. His interest is function. Nathaniel’s question may have been or sounded course but it came from a ready heart, from a heart that wanted the Truth, was earnestly seeking the Truth. In exchange for his childlike sincerity, Jesus paid him a truly beautiful compliment, one that we should all aspire to hear from the Master: “an Israelite (read: Christian) indeed, in whom there is no guile”.

A call to Ministry – July 12th, 2020 – Lighthouse Assembly of God

Receiving the call to Ministry

From the moment God saves you, you receive a call to ministry: a ministry of service to Him. “Rocking chair” Christians is not our calling in life. We are swim upstream like salmon. Against the current! We are not here to run out the clock. We are to be a visible sign of the invisible God and of the life-changing Power that He has displayed in our lives!

The goal of the life of every Christian? to be like Jesus! Click To Tweet

Answering the Call to Ministry

Today’s message is drawn from the Epistles to the Colossians, where the Apostle Paul explains what is it, exactly, that we can expect from living, or attempting to live, a life that is pleasing to God. Look at shiny tv preachers. Observing them you would think that a call to ministry is a way to be “served” rather than to serve. They mistake the prosperity of the Gospel with a Gospel of Prosperity. I like the way William Carey, the Father of modern-day missions, put it.

Expect great things from God; attempt...great things for God Click To Tweet

Never the same again

As Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christians we must, as the Pastor Geer proclaimed, “shine”. Let people see the Light in you. Once they do, they’ll want to talk to us about Jesus. Our prayer is that you are blessed as you take time out of your day to be in God’s presence and grow spiritually from the sharing of His Word.

Shameless Plug

We want to remind everyone that Life More Abundant is an outreach ministry of the Men’s Ministry of Lighthouse Assembly of God in Glendale, Queens, New York. Prayerfully consider coming alongside Lighthouse Assembly of God with a gift of any amount. We encourage you to do so through our Venmo Page. Every penny you donate goes fully and directly to the Church. Please share this link with someone, anyone, and everyone you know. May God continue to richly bless you and His Church. Also, please prayerfully consider becoming a patron of Life More Abundant.

 

Bewildered by Grace

Where sin abounds

My best man is not what you would call a “Christian”. We’ve been friends for years and, although he grew up Russian Orthodox, there’s very little semblance of religion in his life. He does as he pleases, goes where he wants with whomever he wants and doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He is an intelligent, classically educated, well-traveled, eloquent, multi-lingual and a very successful cosmopolitan. Although he himself is not religious, he “understands the role it can play in people’s lives”. Our prayer for him has always been that he be bewildered by grace.

All in all, he’s the poster child for a jaded, calculating, cynical yet pragmatic post-cold-war soviet youth. One might even wonder “what does this man have in common with you”? Surprisingly enough, I have to say that he is the only secular friend from my youth God has allowed to remain in my life. And I’m sure He has His reasons. I believe so that he can be bewildered by Grace.

Opportunity presents itself

On one of his many excursions to Europe for a skiing trip with his newlywed wife, they decided to cross the Alps and make some stops in Northern Italy; he wanted to take advantage of the proximity to Milan to take in the sights with his wife. As “luck” would have it, his rental car broke down. He’s not the type to panic so he very calmly called the rental company and arranged to bring his car in for repairs. He arrives at the mechanics’ shop to discover that no one there speaks English. Again, he calmly reaches out to me back in New York, explains the situation, and asks that I speak to the mechanic. He wanted me to communicate to him very clearly what he needed done to the car.

Grace abounds even more

He puts the mechanic on the phone, I introduce myself, explain that the gentleman is my best man, in Italy on vacation and that his car broke down on the road. I extend my availability to translate at a moment’s notice, I thank the gentleman for his time and add “che Dio vi benedica”.

Now, please understand that, although translated into English it means “God bless you”, unlike the ease with which we use it in America, from sneezes on the train to prayers at the altar, in Italian and in Italy, those words are hard to come by. It is not part of our daily lexicon to go around blessing people. For example, for sneezes, we say “salute” which is basically “good health”. Although we are the seat of the Catholic Church, it would surprise anyone to see just how secular Italy has become over the years. Religion and God are making a slow but steady exit out of public life.

Bewildered by Grace

So, just like any other normal phone call, the mechanic and I said our goodbyes. I told my friend it was taken care of. We both moved on with my day. However, what came next was more than just unexpected, it was extraordinary.  The next day, after he had gotten his car fixed and left the mechanics’ shop, he called me again and said: “I just have one question: was the mechanic, like, your cousin or something”? Bewildered might be an understatement.

It’s not every day that my best friend is caught off guard by anything, let alone bewildered.   He reads people and situations extremely well and has an uncanny ability at hedging himself against any unforeseen circumstance. So when he started our conversation with such a question I knew something very unexpected had taken place. I asked him to explain what he meant by such a left-field question. He went on to tell me how, right after we got off the phone, he noticed something different about the mechanic. I was happy to see that the mechanic was bewildered by Grace as well.

He described him as typical northern Italian: straight to the point and not very warm; courteous but not warm. He continued to tell me that after we spoke he went to work in earnest. The mechanic started bossing people around. He was telling his workers to get working on the car. He took a piece of paper and wrote down the following day’s date and a time (assuming it was the pickup time). Before leaving the shop, they shook hands and the mechanic gave him one of those half tap/half hugs sort of goodbye. But then, he said the mind-blower came the next day.

Where mercy found me

When my friend showed up to pick up the car the mechanic greeted him with open arms, welcomed him in, and personally escorted him to the vehicle: he wouldn’t even accept a tip! He said the mechanic smiled and laughed the whole time and waved him off as he left the shop! “Again, I ask you: are you related”? I assured him that I had never met him nor had ever spoken to him. So he asked me: “then what could you possibly have said to this man that changed his mood so drastically”? I thought about it for a moment and then I remembered, I had said: “God bless you”.

It made sense. The last thing I said to him was, “God bless you, God repay for your diligence and your time”. My friend said that it was as though someone had lit a fire under him. I went on to explain that, perhaps, that man had very rarely come across such a salutation and he really took it to heart and it made a tangible difference in his day. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed”. he said. I smiled, said “yeah, ‘God bless you’ goes a long way!’ and moved on.

Living Epistles

Too often we want to preach and push and pull our loved ones into the Kingdom. My friend definitely got his share of it from a few of us when we were younger. After a while, we just loved him for who he is. We decided that prayer might work better. So it’s these rare moments when God shows up and shines out in ways that he understands that make up for years of preaching. He was able to witness first hand how God took care of his needs. Even in such little things above and beyond his expectations. So much so that he thought he had fortuitously landed among relatives of friends.

God doesn’t need us to hit people over the head with the Message: we are called to be “Living epistles, easily read of all men“. For my jaded, calculating eastern European cynical friend, what happened that day made him stop and take notice. Perhaps a few more such close encounters and, who knows, the Lord will lead him to Himself soon. We, as Christians, can only pray. As we pray, let us ask for opportunities for people to truly be bewildered by His Grace.

Acceptable Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. – Romans 12:1

The Bible teaches us that we are to bring sacrifices to God that are worthy of He who is receiving them. But what can we possibly bring to God that is an acceptable sacrifice; once Jesus paid the price for all of our sins, what can we possibly give God something that is new and fresh and worthy of being received by the Creator of the Universe? Just like the old saying “what do you buy a man that has everything”?

The Psalmist David (Psalms 49:14) as well as the writer of Hebrews (13:15) teach us to bring “sacrifice of Praise”. Praise is the only thing that we can bring to God that He will accept; we give it out of our own volition that is spotless and clean in His Presence. Because it comes from our spirit, it is “pure and undefiled” worship; it is not out of material goods which, technically, we received from Him in the first place.

God the Father wants us to want to worship Him in spirit and in Truth. God created us so that we may have a relationship with Him. Relationship with God is no different than relationship with humans, it requires time, effort and sacrifice. Now sacrifice is not intended to be some sort of self-inflicting pain ritual but rather a willful decision to give of yourself to the other person. What better way to worship God in an undefiled Temple than to offer up sacrifice of praise, which is after all our “reasonable and acceptable service“.

Life More Abundant

“I have come to give you Life, and Life more abundant”. John 10:10

I must’ve heard thousands of sermons in my life on just about every topic in the Book. Unfortunately, I have to say that more often than not, the message was about how, as Christians, we were “stealing from God”; a concept that, when I compared it to the God I knew and know, was as ridiculous to me as evolution. The message below is the inspiration for everything that we have planned for this ministry. As always, our most sincere yearning of our hearts is that you may be blessed and share that blessing with someone you know. God bless you. Here it is…it’s name, of course is:

Life More Abundant

There’s one verse, in particular, I believe, that sums up what the difference is between what the Devil’s will and what God’s Will for my life is. It’s very simple: the enemy of my soul wants to “steal, kill, and destroy”; the Father, Creator and Lover of my soul wants to give me “life” and that I may have it “more abundantly”! For the last 2000 years, the Church has struggled to give this verse meaning, too often, while trying to shy away from what has come to be called “Prosperity Preaching” and at the same time struggling to keep its distance from “Self-Denial Preaching” like that of the Stylites and of the self-inflicting practices of the Opus Dei. But what is the Gospel if not a message of Prosperity! When John the Baptist’s faith fell short, he sent his disciples to inquire from Jesus whether He was truly the Messiah, Jesus’s reply was not a yes or no but “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”. To the people of the time good health was just as life-changing as winning the lottery would be to us today! The lame man walking suffered two instantaneous life-altering miracles; the first was as plain as day, but the second…was his legacy! He could now work and provide for his family or start a family and his name would not be blotted out from history. For a leper to be cured was an incredible upgrade in social status: no longer being deemed “unclean” made it possible for them to return to a “normal” life with full reinstatement of party, place, and position, rights duties and responsibilities that they enjoyed prior to their illness. The dead being raised?! What would any of us give for a do-over, a “free life”, repeat last down! How is that not Prosperity Preaching?! God in His infinite Grace, even granted a king, Hezekiah, 15 more years! That didn’t just change his life but the trajectory of a kingdom and, most assuredly, the history of man!

The good news was proclaimed to the poor because the rich and powerful were well-educated and well-versed, they knew and could read Scripture; for them, to them, “much was given” and therefore, from them. much was expected! They knew the Law and therefore could not claim ignorance. The poor could not and would not be allowed to read and were left depended on the scraps that fell from the lips of self-righteous and self-serving priests whom, according to Jesus, were they themselves blind and would neither enter nor let anyone else enter the Kingdom! Jesus himself said that He didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick. And who were these sick if not those who did not have nor know the Word. Afterall, faith can only “come by hearing, and hearing the Word of God’. The masses were malnourished both physically and spiritually and so the Word came to them.

But perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong; my ambitions and aspirations and love of money are clouding my judgement. Perhaps a different take, a second look, is needed. This may be a good time to go back to the original text and compare and contrast the two contenders for my soul. It is written that the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” and the very next words are “but I [God]…..”. The very existence of the word “but” in the phrase points us to  the fact the whatever comes next is a polar opposite to the statement that has just been made. To steal, kill, destroy: what is, what what are the polar opposites to these things? 

Simply put, stealing is taking possession of something that belongs to another without permission and by force, if necessary. So what’s the opposite of all that? I would argue that being the owner or having the ability to afford an object and therefore not taking possession by force, but after having reasoned with the owner, a mutually satisfying agreement is reached regarding the price he requires and the value I assign it. God credits my soul with an immeasurable worth: He was willing to watch His Son die in my place, to pay a debt He did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay. That is the level of graciousness of God’s bargain-making on my behalf. The enemy comes to steal, enslave, subjugate, coerce, deprive; to make us debtors, borrowers, of little account, of low repute, disadvantaged, underprivileged, poverty-stricken, impoverished, poor, destitute, needy.  But God wants to enrich, empower, liberate, emancipate, entitle, qualify, enable, and equip us; He wants to make us owners, proprietors, possessors, titleholders, masters, heirs, creditors, lenders; the head and not the tail. He has seen it fit to continuously raise my position and status in His Creation: from creation to servant to people to child to son to heir. The Bible teaches us that a Good man leaves an inheritance for his children and their children: a good name and a strong position. Our lot as children of God is to find favor among men and angels and to lack for no good thing.

Secondly, Jesus proclaimed that the enemy comes to kill: his goal is to murder, assassinate, eliminate, terminate, and execute.However, God’s intentions for us is Life, and one more abundant! Again, my bias and ambitions may be shrouding my thoughts so it is important that we stay focused on the Word. In fact, His first spoken instructions to man were to be “fruitful and multiply”, to fill and occupy the land. Later on, Moses was instructed to lead the people towards a land filled with “milk and honey”. I don’t know much about farming and herding, but my dad would teach us that these two things would require great expanses of green pastures and flowering plants of many kinds. God was, again, instructing them towards plenty, not lack.  Many of the Patriarchs had large families and even larger extended families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jacob had 11 children,David had 19 and in turn each of them had several children and so on and so forth. For many practicing Jewish, as well as many Christian families, this is still a tenement of their faith which is taken very seriously: it is not uncommon to find nuclear families with more than 5 children.This makes for lots of mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, beds to warm, minds to educate and souls to instruct. All of this would require a tremendous amount of resources without  resorting to stealing. Surely where God leads, He also provides: He would not instruct us to multiply and ill the land just so we could watch our progeny struggle and suffer.

Lastly, the enemy comes to destroy; he comes to end, extinguish, dash, quell, quash, ruin, wreck, shatter, crush, frustrate, thwart. Thankfully, the first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He takes great pleasure in planning, designing, building, manufacturing, constructing, arranging:God’s good pleasure is turning His imagination into reality, the same way how He created space, time, matter and light out of the nothing, by His sheer will, on the sixth day, it says, he created man in His own image.He truly created us in His own image…on the inside: we have the power to create: our thoughts, our words, our actions shape and impose our will on space, time and matter in a way that nothing else He created can and does. There are greater force of nature but no greater forces in nature. Volcanoes, Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Black holes, Supernovas; they’re are all vastly more powerful than any one man. And yet, as any insurance underwriter will attest, these are all classified as “Acts of God”; they are not free agents. Humans, in fact are the only free agents, in the likeness of God. In fact, the whole history of man is full of great feats of engineering and terra-forming that have left an indelible mark on the earth and beyond though the imposition of man’s will on his surroundings: the Tower of Babel, Hanging Gardens, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse at Alexandria, Parthenon, the Colosseum, Great Wall of China, Hagia Sophia, Moon Landing, and the International Space Station just to name a few. Over the centuries, we’ve learned to harness the power of the waters, the winds, the waves, the Sun and even the atom. We’ve gone from smoke signals across short distances to receiving satellite data from distant Pluto and beyond. These are all part of a testament that our very nature strives to imagine, invent, improve, progress, explore and prevail against all odds.

And yet, too often as Christians, even with all of this arsenal of proof and knowledge and assurance, we live in a mentality of lack. Too often you’ll hear brethren testify that God is the “owner of the cattle on a thousand hills” and minutes later listen to them complain of their lack and want and lowliness. Why is it that God, our Father, owner of all those cattle and His children struggle every day to make ends meet? Are they the children of a lesser god? In no uncertain terms: No way! Did God not give them the same more abundant life as He promised to the rest of us? Of course He did! Does not the Bible call us to be givers, supporting every good work? Absolutely! But, when hard times, struggles, burdens, and situations come upon us, it is our attitude in those situations that will determine how we get out of those situations! We have to remind ourselves that “these light afflictions” are temporary; they came to pass not to stay. We have to remind ourselves that too much month at the end of my money is a proving season and that God is moving things around on our behalf and we have to be thankful for the breakthrough as if it already took place: the message was sent, the angel has been dispatched, now we’re just waiting for the orders to be read out loud! It is important, as children of the Most High, that we don’t get comfortable in those situations and, just as important, don’t let those situations get comfortable in us

Jesus teaches us that we have not because we ask not, and when we do ask, we ask for the wrong things, so therefore a loving God cannot answer those prayers. You want to see your prayers being answered, start being a blessing to others; ask God to show you how you can make yourself available for others: your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, even your enemy. When you become an answer to prayer, God will most assuredly answer your prayer!

If we would start believing the things that we prophesy over our own lives and use the Word to speak Life into our own lives, with thanksgiving in our hearts offering up the sacrifice of praise, we would be giving God the permission and the space to act in our lives, on our behalf, in the best way He sees fit, trusting that what He sees, is a good fit. 

I truly believe that God has every intention for us to have a more abundant life, not free from struggle but free from its long-term results; not free from trials, challenges and rough patches, but free from worry: He again calls us to live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The Bible teaches us that the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are on God’s mind and He watches over them: they have no cares regarding where their next meal or sip of water is coming from:how much more will He care for those whom He created in His own image! I believe that God has so much more for us than what we could even imagine, if we would just let Him. Ask God to make you a blessing to others: when you ask for more for yourself, think of ways how you’re having more will be a blessing to others. King Solomon wrote that his whole life he had never seen the righteous forsaken nor their seed beg for bread! What kind of God, King of all the Universe, would keep His chosen people down and out in the slums; we call Him Father, Savior, Redeemer, Provider, Lord, Shelter, Friend: stop simply calling Him those names and believe that He is those names! Prophesy over your unemployment, over your legal situation, your illness, your marital struggles, your wayward children, your unsaved loved ones and claim these victories through the promises that God has made to us all. 

Whether you’ve been saved for 80 years and you’ve seen and tasted that the Lord is Good, whether it’s been a long time since you’ve seen Him move, or this is the first time you’ve heard the name Jesus: friend, you’re here for a reason: whether you’re reading this somewhere or you’re listening to the sound of my voice, the reason you’re here now is that Jesus wants to take away your guilty stains, your worries, your anxieties, your passions, your crowded thoughts, and your oppressive worrying. He wants to mend your broken heart, He wants to heal your wounded spirit, He wants to restore your mind and give you something special in return. God’s deal for you today is this: come, let Us reason together: confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, Believe in your heart that He is the Son of God and that He rose from the dead, repent of your sins and He, is turn, will hear your prayer, He will forgive your sins and will cleanse you of all unrighteousness. He will bring you forth into a new life, a new Light, full of Love, Mercy, Grace, Favor, Abundance and all the things He has planned for your good. He will release from the chains that bind you, your addictions that enslave you, your worries that depress you and the hurt that enslaves you! And if you agree, say it with me: “Lord, may it be done to me as I have said!” In Jesus’s name! Amen!

 

Thanks for Nothing

Too often, the things that don’t happen are more important than the things that do happen!

When was the last time we made a full list of the things we are thankful for? I don’t mean the “cover all my bases” kind of prayer, I mean a sincere, heart to heart, confession of gratitude for even the things that didn’t go our way? We pray that this meditation blesses your Walk as it has blessed ours. As always, please don’t keep it to yourself: if you find anything wholesome, commendable, as the Apostle Paul said, please pass it on. God Bless you. We call this:

Thanks for Nothing

I remember my first Thanksgiving. It was 1988 and it was our first year in the States. We went over to a family gathering at a relative’s house and ate massive amounts of food: turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing but also very non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes: shrimp and lasagna and tiramisú. We ate to our heart’s content and then…had some more tiramisú! We never gave “thanksgiving” any thought; for us and so many other families like ours, I fear, just like any other holiday, the reason for the holiday was buried under gifts and plans and “x-mas” and “gobble-gobble” and trips and food and football games and everything else except the holiday. 

For so long, thankfulness for the food at the dinner table was implicit, taken for granted and more often than not, never reached its final destination: we would say things like: “thanks, Mom, that was delicious!” or “Wow, Dad, the oranges from the grove are amazing this year!”; God wouldn’t even get an honorable mention. We never even gave it a second thought.

It wasn’t until many years later when we gave our hearts to Christ that we finally took the time to understand and appreciate the meaning of the word and the value of being thankful. We began praying at every meal, something that had never ever happened in our home before under any circumstances. Finally, thanksgiving and gratefulness became part of who and what we are because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. It was never lengthy, just long enough to say what we were thankful for, give some specifics and thank Him for every little thing along the way. We made it a point to ensure that it wasn’t repetitious; we had walked away from empty prayers and meaningless repetition. So many times, my Dad would start to say Grace but it was in such a low voice and he would get so choked up that we would just smile and pick up along the way and finish off altogether with a family “Amen!”. I always felt that my dad’s few, simple and tear-filled words were his way of making up for all the meals he had gone without giving thanks: he was both giving thanks and asking forgiveness for missed opportunities to be thankful.

For a really long time I thought it was enough: being thankful for what you had, whether little or much, like the old hymnal says, knowing that God was in it. We made every attempt to express gratefulness from the most sincere place and with gladness of heart, thank God for His Majesty. Again, I looked to my father as my example. He’s an old and quiet soul with decades of wisdom and humility, as well as a simplicity of heart but a very astute mind. So many times, he would just take a deep breath, let out a deep sigh and say “Thank you, Jesus!”. Those three simple words encompassed so much meaning and complexity and yet expressed with the genuineness of a farmer. That was the type of prayer I wanted to offer up to God, a prayer that in action and words acknowledges God’s Sovereignty and fully accepts His will.

As the years went by and the more my faith grew, the more my eyes were opened to how many things there was to be thankful for: every breath I took, every moment of rest where I could close my eyes without fear, every loving family member, every caring friend, every moment of happiness, every day among the living and so on and so on. Being grateful brought its own satisfaction and filled my heart with gladness and laughter. Understanding that God is sovereign not only in the long-term Plan but also in the moment-by-moment brought me to a reverence and an awe of God. The phrases we would hear preachers and pastors alike say so often like “If God were to call you Home right now, would you be ready?” took on new meaning. What if He called me right now, would I be ready? I learned to thank Him for not only saving me but for keeping me: I realized that it was only by His Grace that I stayed the path. As in all human conditions and situations, churches are not immune from strife and contentiousness and all sorts of things that may disrupt a church over the years. I had seen so many affected by various strife and lose heart, lose touch and lose faith. I can honestly say that it is by His Grace alone that I have not forsaken the fellowship of the brethren or fallen back into my old ways or found new ways of messing up. And for all of that I gave thanks.

That’s when it hit me! I understood that God honored the sincere gratitude of my father’s prayers, that He honored the detailed gratitude of my prayers, but there was still more. My father and I were was still missing the other side of the coin: we gave thanks for the water and the food and the clothes and the strong family and the cool summers and mild winters and bountiful harvests and the fresh air and all the rest but something was still missing.

As Christians we’re almost programmed to think that good things come from God because He is Good and therefore bad things come from the Devil because he is bad. Therefore, we only thank God for good things. We don’t thank Him for the bad things when they happen or the bad or worse things that never happen. We’ll go around rebuking the bad and thanking God for the good as if God isn’t the Master of it all. I came to realize that the Earth is truly the Lord’s and the fullness thereof! With a new-found contentedness in my heart I started thanking God even more for the good things in my life, for the horrific things that never took place and for the bad things that could have certainly been worse. 

With this new level of understanding, I started thanking God for “nothing”. I thanked Him for things never took place: accidents avoided by Grace, catching the “late” bus that kept you from being at the wrong place at the wrong time, ringing the “wrong” doorbell, not getting in a friend’s car. Thinking back I could only stand in awe of the fact that, against my better judgement, I’m still in one piece, breathing, without a criminal record, married to a beautiful women with three amazing children, with a great job and a solar disposition. It could’ve just as easily happened that all the things that didn’t take place played out and I could’ve been miserable, penniless, divorced, addicted, away from the Church, unfulfilled and/or dead. I recently came across someone I hadn’t seen in 17 years. As is customary with “blasts from the past”, you spend most of the time catching up on the people that were important to both of you at the time. After a major download of unbelievable twists and turns, this person shared with me this priceless jewel: “lucky for you, they didn’t want anything to do with you anymore!”.  

Giving God thanks for “nothing”, I believe, is to truly understand the innumerable ways in which He provides for us. Whether it’s the things we don’t want to happen that turn out to be a life-changing blessings when they do or the things we do want to happen that, for our benefit, never pan out. This lesson was a very expensive one for me: It took a difficult time and a very dark place in my life for me to learn that the things we as humans believe are important and necessary in our lives don’t even begin to compare to the things God knows are important and necessary in our lives: passed up for the promotion? Be thankful. Lost a friend along the way? Be thankful. Suffered an illness? Be thankful.A loss of a loved one? Be thankful. Truly in ALL things, be thankful! He knows what you need and He is a better Planner than you are! He know where you’re headed, what you need to get there, who you’ll need by your side, and what “pre-existing conditions” you will have to have gone through to prepare you in mind, body and spirit, for when you get to where you’re going.

The idea of giving thanks for the wrong you’ve suffered, the bad breaks you endured and for the scars you’ve picked up along the was is as crazy, and yet as simple, as to believe in a God who loves us enough to send His Son to die in our place so as to restore a relationship with us! These “light afflictions” as the Apostle Paul described them, are not a necessary evil but a necessary good to prepare us, to bring us, often times kicking and screaming, closer to God with a deeper and more free-willed dependency on God and a more intuitive surrender to His will, understanding that truly ALL things work for good for those who fear the Lord and are called according to His Purpose.

We never want to leave off without giving you an opportunity to make Jesus the Lord of your life. Just say: “Dear Jesus, I repent of my sins; come into my heart; I make you my Lord and Savior”. Dear friend, if you said that simple prayer, we believe you got Born Again. Find yourself a good Bible-Based church, keep God first place and He’ll show things you haven’t even dreamed of. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Amazing Love

Have you ever been truly loved?

I wrote this devotional a few months ago, the day of my dad’s birthday. It is a very emotional subject for me because my parents live far away: nothing on this Earth teaches you what truly matters like longing. I pray that you are blessed and, as always, I encourage you to share this with as many people as you possibly can in the hopes of reaching someone, anyone for the Kingdom. Here it is…

Amazing Love

Today is my father’s birthday. Today my earthly father turns eighty-one. My father and I have come a long way in our relationship: from when I was a child and being fearful of what he would do or say if I did something wrong, to when I was a teenager and resentful that I was not understood and that, seemingly, my opinion didn’t matter, to now. Now, now that I’ve seen the look in his eyes when I graduated top of my class, to when he watched me get married to Michele, when we welcomed my firstborn Madelyn, my second child Claudia and then our boy Joseph into the world. Now I can finally say with utmost certainty something that was true all along; that man loves me more than his next breath, I am the apple of his eye: there’s no hardship he wouldn’t endure, obstacle he wouldn’t overcome and no price he wouldn’t pay to see me live a long, fruitful, abundant, satisfying, productive, blessed life, pressed-down, shaken together and flowing over! 

The person I just described to you is, again, my father, a human: a mortal man with character flaws, sinful by nature, bound by opposing interests of love towards his children and of self-preservation, confined by an imperfect and incomplete understanding of the world around him and how his decisions shape it and vice versa. In spite of all of this, I stand here and tell you that my father loves me, fully, to the best of his ability, and beyond my wildest expectations. I know that if it was up to my father to design and plan the rest of my life I would be in good hands; it would be full of selfless love and abundance of every kind and long years of good health with my wife and children and their children and their children’s children. I know that if it was up to him, I would never know lack or want, my children would be counted among the wise and powerful, we would lend and not borrow, our tables would overflow with every good thing, we would be a stronghold for the righteous, a safe harbor during the storms, and my descendants could no more easily be counted than the stars in the night sky. Again, this is just simply my father, my earthly father.

And yet, with all of his love and good will and good intentions, as sure as I know that he loves me, I also know that somewhere along the line he has, unknowingly, unexpectedly and unintentionally wronged me somehow. I can say that now not because I know of something in particular that he did; I know it based on what I know him to be: a flawed human with an incomplete knowledge and understanding of himself, of me and the world around us.

But….as Brother Izzy, a deacon in my church, would say…..”but God!” But God, who is Understanding and Wisdom and Perfection, loves me more than my father ever could and more than I could ever fathom.

The love of God is not like the carnality of human affection and its hierarchies. Even the worse of human families “love” each other after a while simply out of pure habit; the best of human families love each, deeply, from the heart, and it’s still cheapened by the biology of it all: they don’t foster those same strong visceral feelings for strangers, do they? No, the love of God is not that of a father, a mother, a child, of a lover, of a friend or any other: it is all of those, none of those and some much more.

God loves a part of me my carnal affections can only say that they love but not understand what it means: God loves my soul. My soul is precious to God; it is the life-spark He created out of the void of space and time and placed it into my very first cell. God loves my soul because He created it; not like a mother nurtures a baby in her womb and her love grows with every movement and every additional awareness she has of the growing baby. No, God loved me fully and completely from the moment He first thought of me and decided to assign me to be born for such a time as this. 

In the fullness of time, God revealed himself. St. Augustine explained that we were given two revelations: Holy Scripture and Creation, and that whenever one seemed to be in disagreement with the other it was due to our imperfect understanding of one of the two. In Scripture, God revealed Himself first as the Creator, then as the Lawgiver and Judge. For too many souls around the world, unfortunately, their voyage through His Revelation stops there. Thanks be to God that we have come to know him as King, Father, Brother, Friend, and Redeemer. Lyrics and verse suddenly spring to mind like “I am a friend of God”, “son, do you know I still love you?”, “I know my Redeemer lives”. The Apostle John wrote “what Love the Father has lavished upon us that we may be called His children!”

God loves us so much that He steadily and progressively, through His Mercy and Grace, kept moving closer and closer to us, even while we were trying to do our very best to run away from Him. The Israelites wanted Laws like the peoples that surrounded them so God gave them the Ten Commandments. Instantly, in their hearts, they pondered “who is my neighbor?” Still not satisfied, He filled in the “gray areas” for them giving them rules for everyday living filling three more Books with rituals and rules and procedures; still they were unsatisfied. Then they asked for a king to be like the peoples around them; they would not listen so He gave them Saul. 

Having watched us break, compromise, detract, subterfuge, lie, cheat, steal, connive, murder and rationalize our way around every single possible Law, Rule, Procedure, and Advice, He came one step closer and gave us one Rule, one Law above all the Laws and the Prophets: Love your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Having found us physically, emotionally and spiritually unable and/or unwilling to do so and therefore remaining under the weight of the Law and the power of Sin, He took one final step towards us; one final solution. “Ego te absolvo”, “It is Finished”, “Paid in Full”, “Remember no more”, “Father forgive them”. The hymn lyrics tell that “I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe” that “whomsoever will” come and accept freely! Can you conceive it; being deservant of Death and Hades and Hell and Torment, God sent His Son, to die for my son, my father’s son and each and every single one of us! What kind of Love is this?! What father would sacrifice his son for hostile, belligerent, arrogant, self-important, self-righteous stranger or even an estranged relative? Adding insult to injury, He now calls me son, Heir and Co-Heir with Jesus!

My father turned eighty-one today, and I know that he loves me; I know he wishes me well and even better than what he wishes for himself. But, there is One, who loves me more than I could ever imagine loving someone or being loved by someone; He loves me more deeply and more fully. I know this because He sent Jesus, the firstborn of many brethren, and instructed Him to leave Heaven to come and stand in the gap, pay our debts, settle our scores, remove our chains, open our eyes, wash us clean, anoint our heads with oil, cover us with His blood, give us news robes for our rags, put a ring on our finger, take us into the Holy of Holies, as honored guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and present us to God the Father as a Bride, perfect and without blemish! Amazing Love! 

 

When a Rational Mind Meets Despair!

I have always thought very highly of myself: good grades, great in social situations, able to read people and circumstances. I was both my own biggest fan and my own worst enemy. What I share below is how I met this Jesus one night, in a very dark, scary and lonely place and how a simple prayer into the dark saved my life. I pray that you are blessed. Please don’t keep this to yourself: share it, post it, comment, pass it on. In Jesus’ name. Amen! God Bless you! I call it:

The Scandal of Grace

         Growing up, I was what many people would consider very fortunate. Now this is not because we were rich or famous or both. In fact, our lives were very normal: nuclear family, the youngest of five siblings, surrounded by dozens of cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents; all encompassed in a small warm little town in southern Italy. Even as a little boy I could feel that there was something in the air, it was as though time had stood still: no matter where I went, whether alone or with friends, everyone knew who we were: they knew our names, whose children we were and could literally quote the degrees of separation between themselves and someone in our family. Life was simple, predictable, enjoyable. 

My family wasn’t very religious: we knew God existed, that Jesus was also God, that He was born on Christmas Day, died on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday; we showed reverence where and when it was due but for the most part, life moved on without much consideration for the things of God. Now this didn’t mean that we were blasphemers or that we took the name of God in vain, on the contrary: we were always taught of the Goodness of God and how He loved us but it was never to the point of a personal relationship with Him.

Even though God wasn’t the central figure of life, much of life played out within the realm of a healthy fear for God and his Commandments. As a young boy, I didn’t know what domestic violence was, had never heard the word “divorce”, police presence at our house was limited to the captain coming to say hello to my parents and coming to seek friendly advice of a personal nature or simply to chat a bit about soccer or politics. This was not just my reality but the reality of everyone I knew. We had what I later learned would be described as a “charmed life”. No one I knew struggled with drugs or alcoholism or sloth or the stain of a bad reputation of any kind. 

Thinking back, all of my memories of interactions with adults, whether blood relation or not, was a positive one. I don’t have any recollections of adults calling me disparaging names, being belittled, or ever being hit out of anger; never went to school without clean clothes on, without being well-groomed and all my homework done and checked by at least one adult. In fact, some of my most vivid childhood memories include my uncle bringing me to the town square to show off to his friends how quickly I could do mental math. They would all cheer and clap and smile and I would inevitably end up with ice cream paid by whichever gentlemen had posed the math problem. From this young age, I learned to trust and respect others and had come to expect a solar disposition from people, even strangers. Unbeknownst to me, God’s Grace permeated every angle of my life, so much so that I thought that everyone’s home life was the same as mine. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I wasn’t even aware that all of this was because of Grace; I thought everyone lived this way. Concepts such as racism, divorce, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, or premarital pregnancies weren’t even words that I knew as a child. Life was good. It’s because of this that I can recall that even at a young age I didn’t fear death: I thought that I would simply die and go to Heaven and everything would be exactly how I had left it back on Earth: peaceful, loving, caring and gracious: warm long summer days and crisp, clear summer nights; The days would be filled with play and cold drinks and moms chasing us down holding a banana hoping we would eat; nights would be filled with the sounds of neighbors sitting outside talking and laughing until the early hours of the morning and young men driving by on the motorcycles hoping to catch a glimpse of their sweetheart casually serving cold drinks to the gatherings in the streets. I never questioned any of it, I couldn’t imagine anyone living a reality different than mine: I knew life was good, I just thought everyone’s life was good!

It wasn’t until much later, in high school that I caught my first glimpse of an alternate reality: I learned that people had complicated, often painful and stress-filled lives haunted with want and lack and struggles of every kind. It was then that I started to realize that the life I took for granted and assumed as the status quo for everyone was anything but ordinary, it was in fact very rare and very special. Friends and acquaintances that I had made over the years had a myriad of differing life experiences: some lived one parent, some lived with grandparents, some lived alone, some were abused, still others were neglected and rejected: from broken homes to foster homes and every variation in between, I saw just how special a normal life truly was. 

I questioned this reality that, apparently, was very special: a gift. I wondered if it was because we were special: was it something about us that made us special. Slowly I realized that people are, for the most part, all the same and the only “moving parts” are things that they cannot control: their birth and their initial circumstances. The old adage came to mind “you can pick your friends but not your family”. But if I can’t pick my family, Someone must have! The only reason why I wasn’t born into lack and want and abuse was by sheer Grace! I could’ve just as easily been born in another time and place where my reality could have been a hell on Earth scenario rather than the one I had which I could only refer to as “Heaven’s Waiting Room”. 

In my  mind I accepted this Truth, thankfully so, and moved on with life. I accepted, in my own teenage way, that, by God’s Sovereign Will, my life was good and it could’ve just as easily not been so. This understanding did give me more empathy for my fellow man, but nothing that moved me to tears or to action, it simply gave me a sense of pity for them: I understood that their decisions were the result of complicated factors and that they didn’t know any better. This gave me a false and unwarranted sense of superiority: I pitied them like you would a child throwing a tantrum in a mall or someone arguing and cursing in full view of their young children. I knew it was random “luck”, God’s Sovereignty, and nothing that I did on my own, and yet, I did not learn the right lesson and it had catastrophic effects on my self-image

I reasoned that all of this was partially possible because of factors that were unique to us: how our heritage and geography met with history: Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines all called our little corner of the world “home”. Pythagoras derived his formulas literally a few miles from our town; Crassus defeated Spartacus in the fluvial flood plains in the valley below my town: this sense of pride and history, I realized, permeated every single aspect of our life. Everything was very structured, hierarchical, clan-like, our sense of who we are came, also, from a knowledge of who we had been. In fact, everyone there could be described as an “old soul”: children wise beyond their years, elders with millenary memories of old feuds and sad stories of dead kings. It made us very wise but, in a way, very arrogant. 

I was not immune to any of this by any stretch of the imagination: I suddenly “knew” who I was: we were civilization. Where I come from we have a saying: “La Storia siamo Noi!” which translates loosely to: “we are history!”. With very little evidence to the contrary, from what I could see, this sense of pride rose in me and became arrogance. But, through it all, His eyes were still on me. It was then, that He started sending His servants my way: humble men and women with a true reverence and love for God to point me in the right direction. I paid them little mind: I was sure of myself, self-assured that they were wrong and that I had no need for their philosophy. 

But, it was during a winter night, after yet another move across the Atlantic to the United State that it happened. I found myself alone, separated from what made me feel safe, again forced to make new friends and rebuild an identity and find a way to fit in, that it finally happened to me. After struggling for weeks and months telling myself that it’ll be alright, that I finally broke, and asked for help. Sleeping on yet another foldable cot pushed up against a couch so as to make it a bit bigger in yet another small and cramped apartment, that it finally happened. Having lost connections to what I thought was important, to what gave me purpose and meaning and direction that it finally happened. Looking for sleep that wouldn’t come and wrestling with thoughts that wouldn’t leave, I cried out in my mind to this far away God that I had learned of as a boy, heard about from these zealots and discounted as an unnecessary complication. I pleaded to this God that I didn’t even know was real to prove Himself to me. I dared and begged and pleaded with Him to give me rest in mind and body. I asked Him to keep me in my bed and to keep my mind from doing what it wanted to do to my body. I cried out from my soul without making a sound, as someone that had lost their next breath after a bullet impact to the chest, I pleaded with God: “Jesus, give me rest!”. If He would only take me out of this misery, keep me from committing the unthinkable, and restore me to my former self, I promised that I would serve Him for the rest of my life!

In an instant, a deep and restful sleep washed over me like a warm wave over dry feet on a Mediterranean beach. It was the most restful sleep I had ever experienced until then and every day since. The next morning I woke up refreshed with a smile on my face and went about life as if nothing had ever happened. I could recall the thoughts and the pain but none of it bothered me; I was suddenly floating above it all. My mind was restored to me, my demeanor returned to the self I recognized and all the pain was gone.

This God that I had only heard of in passing and had learned stories, almost like fairy tales, had suddenly become not only real but very personal. The same God that had provided for me and sheltered me from evils unknown, that had bestowed on me abundant levels of unmerited favor for my material needs, had now done the unimaginable: He saved my life and, in doing so, saved my soul!

Despite all the benefits of a stable home-life, caring friends, neighbors and teachers and being sheltered and kept from every evil, I realized that day that I would still have ended up in Hell had it not been for my encounter with Jesus. It fell on me like a blanket from Above that Hell is not a place filled with depraved and unrepentant sinners like we see in the movies, but a place where “good people” end up every day. 

It was that day that I started my long and winding walk with the Lord. Along the way, through peaks and valleys and everything in between, I understood that what Jesus has done for me, personally, is truly scandalous! 

This moment, this episode, this stumbling block in my life, was nothing less than His Grace, again and continuously looking out for me. This season was not only allowed to happen but it had been preordained since time immemorial to cause me to stumble to the point where, like in the darkest night, the deepest foxhole, all that is left is your soul and God. In yet another show of His love for me, my life and my soul, Jesus reached out from Heaven and entered my life, my story, my history: He made me part of His story. 

The Bible teaches “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”. I am thankful beyond words that, in my bankrupt condition, God saw it fit to send His Son to die on the cross in my place so that I would have the only currency that could pay for the release of my soul from the grips of Death and Hell. The Scandal of Grace is that, just as the songwriter says: “He didn’t have to do it, but He did”: when I didn’t want to know Him, He came looking for me; when I didn’t think I needed Him, He was patient with me; and when in my foolish hubris I would say “there is no God” He was gracious with me.

I write to you now as the heir to fields I did not plant, homes I did not build, storehouses I did not fill: my Heavenly Father owns it all, my Redeemer ransomed it all, and now, by the Scandal of Grace, I will enjoy it all. Thank you, Jesus. Amen!

 

The Faith of the Atheist

In a recent post, we were discussing the reasonableness of believing in God or, at least in “a god”. We discussed that believing in god from a temporal perspective is, in the least, highly favored by math and physics: since time must have begun at some point for there to be”today”, the reasonable conclusion is that either an external entity created space and time or, from a deist point of view, space-time created itself: either conclusions point to an “un-caused cause”; some of us refer to that as “God”.

We also discussed how, as a response to this unassailable truth, atheist will say that although what happened before the Big Bang is currently unknown, they trust (or have faith) that science will eventually find an answer. Now, coming from individuals that pride themselves on being evidence-based, this statement and others like it fly straight in the face of what they’re trying to prove: that there is no superior “thing”. Unfortunately for them, they do believe, or trust, in something greater: in their case, it’s science.

Now, in reading the previous post, a friend commented on Twitter that “you don’t have to believe in God to have faith”! To that, I can only reply: absolutely false! In fact, the Bible teaches that each of us (believers) were given a measure of faith [Romans 12:3]. However, the verse applies to believers! The faith in this verse refers to how believers should be honest judges of themselves in accordance with this faith that was given to them by God: meaning, if you are an layman don’t think yourself a pastor!

You see, the world, like my atheist friend, mistakes and misuses the word “faith”; they’re actually referring to trust. You have heard, certainly, people say things like “I have faith in my family” or “I have faith in my children” or “the government”. In fact, what they’re saying is that they trust their family, their children, their government, etc.. Trust is based on evidence. For example: I trust there is a God, ( I have evidence of this fact), I have faith in His Word (for which I need no evidence). People trust their family to do right by them; once that trust is broken, it takes faith on their part to trust again; faith that things will go back to the way they were.

Faith, the Bible says “…is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” [Hebrews 11:1]. The write of Hebrews makes it explicitly clear that faith is so much more than trust, it is the “assurance”, some translations read, of something not yet materialized: faith is evidence in something that is still far-off, not yet occurred. Faith is the Power of God’s promises; having faith, even as much as a mustard seed Jesus said, is the difference between being able to move the mountain or not!

You see, the term “faith” which unbelievers refer to and the world uses so interchangeably with “trust” lacks the power aspect that we as believers have come to expect and understand regarding the promises of God. For example, politicians make promises all the time and people put their trust in them and their promises all the time, unfortunately, they lack the power within themselves to enforce those promises on their own: they win elections based on promises and lose re-elections based on un-kept promises; spouses make promises to each other: to love, honor and cherish, and even those promises are too often only empty words. The faith placed in humans by humans is ephemeral, and unenforceable. Promise like “I will never leave you”, or “I will always take care of you” are emotional checks written by known fraudsters given to others who are they themselves hoping against hope that this time, it will be different.

Among humans, a promise made is as good as a promise broken, but the experience of a Born Again Christian is altogether different. The mature Christians build their lives around the promises of God, humanists build their lives on the promises of other people as well as the ones they make to themselves: I’m going to lose 20 pounds, I’m going to finish my degree; then, life and circumstance happen to us all. A stressful year at work and with no time to exercise, the treadmill collects dust; an unexpected baby on the way and the money that would have gone towards those last few credits now goes to replace the crib and stroller you threw out thinking you wouldn’t need anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, Christians make promises too and we take them very seriously, just like everyone else. In fact the Bible has some very strong advice: first on not making promises and second, on not breaking promises made, without being too wordy. It’s easier not to make a promise than to keep one but once the promise is made. In fact, the Bible teaches us [Matthew 5:33-37]:

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne;35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

So, one would say “what does this have to do with what we’re talking about”? The answer is simple. If we who are believers are strongly discouraged from making promises, taking oaths, swearing allegiances and the like and we believe in God, what hope is there for the promises, oaths and sworn allegiances of those who don’t believe. Please don’t misunderstand, my claim is not that Christians are better suited but simply that if those who believe that there is a higher power don’t take it upon themselves to enter into such bondage because of the risk of breaking such oaths, what chance is there for those who don’t believe?

In the end, what we’re actually talking about is self-sufficiency. The faith of the atheist is built around the self-sufficiency of mankind: I will do this, I will do that! These are all promises made to oneself for oneself by oneself. It is at the center of the heart-cry of every Caesar that’s come down through the ages and at the core of self-indulgence: me! The Christian perspective is built antithetical to this where “me” is third, under others, second, and God, first. Here’s why:

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:16-21]

For Christians, making plans is a part of life just like everyone else. However, the key differenve is this: when secularists make plans they just, as Christians would say, “name it and claim it”; they manifest their intentions and work towards them wholeheartedly. In the Christian worldview this desire to make plans and see them come to life is not less present or real, the difference is that they’ll add a modifier: “Lord willing”! Christians understand and have come to terms with their own inability to be self-reliant. The secularist will say, just like the Christian, “I want to buy a new house next year” or “I think I’ll publish a short novel”; both of those things are great ideas for someone that is looking for fulfillment, but the Christian knows who, ultimately, is in charge, and it’s not them.

The crux of the matter is this: the secularist, the Darwinist, the naturalist, the atheist doesn’t ultimately recognize any higher authority than themselves. That is exactly why they claim to have “faith” but place it in secular frames of reference: the marriage, the kids, the friendships, the career, the family, etc. When, all if these things, in the fullness of time frustrate and delude them, what is left, too often, is someone whom deep inside knows their is a Creator but is angry because of the circumstances of life: they would have wanted Him to show Himself in those situations to prove His existence. But, unfortunately, God is neither a pet nor He is mocked. Had He helped you, you would have just as easily assigned it to a chance occurrence or a change of heart in others: that would not have improved your condition, only strengthened your resolve. My dear friend, if you are reading this and recognize yourself in these situations, believe that you are not here by accident. God loves you and is talking to you; don’t harden your heart any longer. We encourage you to repeat this simple prayer:

Dear Jesus, I repent of my sins. Come into my heart, I make you my Lord and Saviour!

Friend, if you prayed that simple prayer, we believe you got “Born Again”. Find a good Bible-Based Church, keep God first place, and He’ll shows things you couldn’t even dream of!

God bless you!