Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

*Be An Encourager

Dear children

When I was about fifteen or so, a friend called me on the phone while another friend listened in to our conversation. He brought up the friend who was listening and I had a lot of negative things to say about him. A little later the friend who was listening in called doing the same thing.  I’ll never forget that.  But worse, even though life went on with these guys, that is to say, their knowledge of how I talked about them in their absence didn’t seem to phase them.  Nothing changed, as far as I could tell, between us.  I’m not sure whether that would have been the case had the tables been turned.  That’s because they were better people than I was.  I wish I’d known that then.  The Bible tells us to let nothing be done through strife or vainglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.  (Phil 2:3)  This is not a command for church life, but a command for life in general, and you would do well to make every effort to live it out even though it goes against your sinful nature.

When I was young, and even when I was much older you see, I was like a black hole.  My entire worth, life’s meaning, and all my effort in life revolved around the gaining of praise and appreciation from my fellow man.  That was a sad state. But worse, it was a one-way street.  I never praised another for their accomplishment. I only sought it. It simply never occurred to me that others might have had, to some degree, the same need or desire. And even if I had seen some reason to praise someone else, I wouldn’t have.  I saw the success or unique abilities of others as a threat to my own place in this world, and the last thing I would have done would be to encourage anyone. I actually found it to be strangely comforting to hear negative things about other people in general, and my friends in particular. Everything in life, you see, was on a scale.  And so it was my mission to bring everyone down to my level.  I can tell you, dear children, that a mentality like that will bring you pain and hardship, and worse, it will bring those around you pain and hardship too.  Not only will you not ever really like yourself that much, you won’t be able to like anyone else either.  And it will cut you off from some of the most valuable life’s lessons that you could ever learn in being a decent human being.  But worse than that, it will cut you off from learning how to love and be loved.

I somehow reasoned then that if I was better at everything, or could hide it when I wasn’t, then I would be more liked by others. I would have worth. It was of course nonsense, yet I believed it.  I had no one to help me work through these deficiencies in life skills.  I didn’t even actually know I had any deficiencies, and I’m sure if I had known I would have worked tirelessly to hide them.  Looking back, however, I now realize that they were like neon signs to the world around me.  So if I have anything to do with it, you will not suffer the pain and sorrow that I did because of this warped view of yourself among the people of this world, and reality.  So here are a few pointers:

First, you have your own gifts and strengths that were given to you from God.  As life goes on it will become ever more clear what your particular strengths and abilities are.  And God didn’t put those gifts in you just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.  People around you need what God has given you.  As you discover these gifts, it’s up to you to develop them.  It’s also up to you to redeem them so that they will be put to use in God’s kingdom and not Satan’s.

Second, others will have similar gifts as you, and some will be better at exercising them than you will be while others will not.  That’s a fact of life.  If you have a gift in music, and you decide to exercise that gift on the piano, know that there will always be a better piano player out there somewhere.  Let that person inspire you.  He is not a threat.  If that person happens to be your friend, then esteem him as the better player.  Be delighted in your heart for your friend when he excels.  You do have control over such things.  It’s fine to be challenged by your friend to be better yourself, for the purpose of developing your gift.  Avoid pride and competition with your friend for vainity’s sake. Such will not work righteousness in your heart, and it will not develop the depth of your friendship.

When I was young I raced motorcycles.  On one particular day, a friend of mine was in first place and I was in second and he fell.  But he was far enough in front of me that he had time to almost get up and get going again before I could pass him.  So when I approached him I didn’t go around him like I should have, rather I purposely ran into him in order to knock him back down.  I couldn’t have my friend, of all people, beating me in a race. That’s the kind of guy I was. I should have been happy for him to win fairly.

Third, help your friends discover and develop their God-given gifts.  Look for people’s strengths and point them out.  Build them up at every opportunity.  Help them in their weaknesses too.  But train yourself in sincerity.  Flattery is ugly and it has no place in you.  Always check your motivations in everything you do. Never lie to a person about their abilities in order to gain their favor. It’s my hope that you’ll have enough confidence in yourself, and your own gifts, to not seek or need to use such trickery to get someone else to approve of you.

Fourth, not everyone is going to be your best friend forever.  I can even guarantee you that there will be some out there who might not like you that much, even though they don’t really even have a good reason.  They may not even know themselves why.  And you might feel the same way about someone else too.  This is life.  Accept it without malice.  Decide to love that person anyway doing nothing in retribution for a feeling they may have about you that they cannot even help themselves.  You will not win everyone you meet as a true friend and that’s fine.  That’s just the way it is.

Fifth, and mostly, encourage all at every opportunity.  Some are gifted by God as encouragers.  For others it takes work and we never get that good at it.  But nevertheless, be on the lookout for things to encourage others about.  And remember, do it with sincerity. Not only does everyone like being encouraged, they need it, just as you do.  Expect nothing in return for your encouragement.  I’m sure that there are others out there like me who couldn’t give an encouraging word if their life depended on it.  They need it more than anyone else I think.

Finally, beyond God, people are everything.  They, like you, bear God’s image.  Your relationship with people will be a big determiner of whether or not you will live in joy.  Boasting and showcasing your gifts, which God gave you, will not bring you joy, only pride masquerading as joy.  Be joyful when you see what God has given to someone else, or what God is doing in another’s life.  Be satisfied with what God has given you.  Life is very momentary.  The pride of life and the lust of the flesh lie to us.  They promise a joy that never comes.  They are like the thirsty man drinking saltwater.  It only makes him want more until it kills him.

I pray that you, dear children, will be humble of heart.  I pray that you would work hard at developing the gifts that God has given you, and that you will be generous with your gifts, and most of all that you would be generous at building others up.

Your father.

 

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I Have Food That You Know Nothing About

Dear children,

In John chapter four there is the account known as Jesus talking to “the woman at the well”. The part of the story that I like is when Jesus’ disciples return from their food-buying expedition into town. It seems that lots of things are going on around Jesus, and His disciples are worried about Him nourishing his body. But he replied to them in a tiniest of parables. He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”   But the disciples didn’t hear a “parable”.  They heard a stated fact.  So Jesus explained, My food,” said Jesus, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 

In your christian lives you will have ample opportunity to work on one project or another with your church. And you can have a great time with your church family in these outreaches or whatever.  But there will be those times when you do something, almost on a whim, and it turns out to be amazing and satisfying.  You will realize that you have just been involved in a sort of miracle, something that cannot be attributed to mere happenstance.  Here’s one of the few examples in my own life.

Many years ago, on a warm summer’s afternoon I was driving from Nashville to Chattanooga.  Just out of Nashville I saw a man hitchhiking.  Without much thought I made the decision, just as I was passing him by, to pick him up. As he approached the car I got a better look at him, and realized that he was quite scary looking.  For just a moment I contemplated peeling out of there before he could get in.  But I didn’t.

He was quiet as we drove along.  His head was almost shaved, and he had lots of scars and tattoos.  He said he that he had just got out of prison and was trying to get to Florida.  When I asked him what he was in prison for, he dryly answered, “murder” as he stared emotionless out the front window.

As we drove his eyes began to grow heavy as he fought off sleep.  I told him he could recline his seat if he wanted, but he would not allow himself that kind of vulnerability with a stranger, and I understood that.  So I was quiet.

Wanting to witness to him in some way, and being a little afraid myself, I decided to plug in a praise and worship cassette.  I thought that might at least put him at some ease in his weariness.  As we drove I began to get an inkling that I ought to buy this man some food. And so an internal argument ensued  in my thoughts about the matter.  All I had on me, you see, was a credit card, and I didn’t want him to know that I had it.  After all, I was already thinking about my plan if it turned out that he wanted to commandeer my  car in Chattanooga.  So I put the matter to rest, I would not be stopping, or so I thought.

Somewhere in rural Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga, on a Sunday afternoon, where businesses were scarce, most being closed for Sunday and with soft worshipful music and the lullaby of the road singing their sleepy songs to both of us, a sudden loud and continuous noise and vibration started us from our daze.  I entered the emergency lane and learned that though it was still holding air, the tire had come apart.

It so happened that we were right at an exit off the freeway, so I followed the ramp i[ tp the stop sign as I contemplated a tire change.  But as I came to a stop I saw two things that changed everything.  An open tire store, and right across the street a Golden Corral.  As far as I can remember, those were the only two businesses open.  This was a rural stretch of I-24.  It was over 20 years ago, it was on a little two lane road that happen to intersect the freeway, and there weren’t lots of businesses around.  Just these two as far as I can remember.  But what is important is the fact that I then realized that God wanted this man fed, and He was going to feed him, and I was going to be the one who did it.  That was impeccably clear to me as I rolled to a stop.

The whole experience became a wonderful one.  It is an experience that I think only a Christian can appreciate.  It was the maker of the heavens and the earth, the creator of all things, deigning to use me in his work.  I can tell you that there’s nothing like it in this entire world.  I took my car into the tire shop and told them to replace the two rear tires then I offered the hungry soul with me an all you can eat feast.  It was a special treat to watch that man eat, and to see the excitement in his eyes.

But I too was fed in more ways than a physical meal for my physical body.  I was fed by doing God’s will and his work.  And when we are fed in that way, it is better than the best of the best in gourmet feasts.  Most of us, I’m convinced, have very few opportunities like this to actually see God’s hand move.  But I am also convinced that it need not be quite so rare.  That day, I missed a golden opportunity.  Today I would have no problem to almost immediately strike up a conversation concerning the Gospel.  Then, as a new Christian I was afraid.  I don’t know why.  As I’ve introduced the Gospel to more and more hurting people it has gotten much easier to do.

That day was a blessing to me more than it was to that poor man.  He didn’t hear of God’s redeeming love from me that day, as he should have.  But I caught a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand at the price of two tires and two meals.  I have learned since then to reject, outright, the notion that the Gospel is preached without words.  There are many many organizations and people who expend themselves in alleviating human suffering.  But that’s all they do.  Preaching the Gospel is the only hope that the cause of that suffering, which is man’s unredeemed heart, will be dealt with.  Jesus said that fixing up the outside of a man was nothing more than whitewashing a tomb full of dead men’s bones.  Jesus deals with the heart through the Good News of reconciling man with God.

I pray for you therefore, dear children, as you walk through this life that you will feast on doing the will of him who sent you and finishing his work.  The field is indeed white for the harvest, so I pray that you will go forth, and reap a barnful of food that you will find eternally satisfying.

Your father

Legalism, The False Plague

Dear Children

Legalism is a bad thing because it is of the flesh which leads to death.  It’s based on the assumption that not only can you earn your way into heaven, but that you must.  Combine this with the fact that man has an affinity and a love for all things of the flesh, and legalism becomes the basis for religion in general.   As I’ve said before, man is by his very nature religious.   Indeed God has made us as spiritual beings.  But like all good gifts that God has woven into our hearts, the gift of spirituality becomes corrupted by, as John pointed out, “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life“.   Every person knows deep down inside that this life is not all there is.  We all long for purpose beyond  our flesh.  Even militant evolutionist atheists long for more.  That longing generally leads to a works based religion of some kind.

Christianity however is not based on the flesh, which is to say that it’s not based on works.  This fact is what makes Christianity unique in Religions.  It is not based on man’s own ability to be good enough.  Religion, on the other hand, attempts to give man a way to show his fellow man that he is up to par with a set of man-made rules.  It is therefore based on pride.  Not so in Christianity.  To be sure, Christianity does not escape the corruption of the flesh.  Christians can be just as plagued with the pride of their own works as those in the next religion.  We know this because Jesus found it worthy of addressing in the sermon on the mount. He admonished us to not “practice our acts of righteousness before other people“.  But the more real that God becomes in the mind of the believer, the more he realizes that the only affirmation that counts is that which comes from God.  Every man knows in his own heart that he is not good, and while we think, on the one hand, that we can fool our fellow man, if God is real to us we also know that we haven’t fooled Him.  The more real God becomes to us then, the more humble we become, both before God and before our fellow man.

A research poll was recently published which indicated that many people were abandoning Christianity.  While this poll would seem to indicate that “Christianity” is in trouble, we can know that this isn’t the case.  Sure, many people are walking away from an old religion tagged with the name of “christianity”, but no true Christian is abandoning his faith.  I can say this with certainty because it would be quite impossible for a Christian to abandon his faith.  What we are witnessing is a cultural shift.  Christianity has become unpopular in culture, and those who have been beholden to culture all along are simply following their true love.  Works based religion is a heavy load, so if it isn’t a necessary part of our righteousness before our fellow man, why in the world would anyone bother?

Yet there are those who still want to retain the name of Christianity while at the same time following this world.  Such people are easy to spot because they will hate true Christianity just like the culture does and will even go so far as to call it un-Christian.  Pay no attention to their antics.  We must trust in the Word.

In living this out we must realize a few things.  First, that we have in us a propensity to justify our sin because of grace.  That is a lie.  We should fight such inclination with all diligence, and seek to live righteous lives according to what God calls righteous.

Second, we must at the same time work at our on sanctification while disconnecting that work from our salvation.  The salvation is a given.  Any “works” we perform, whether they be to help our fellow man or in mortifying our own flesh are a result of that salvation, not the cause of it.  There is nothing we can do, but there is much that we ought to do.  And with the spirit of Jesus living in us, there is much we’ll want to do.

Third, don’t forget that man–and that includes you–loves the praise of his fellow man.  And being a good Christian in the Christian community will gain you some of that praise.  Accept it with humility, but also guard yourself from working for it, for to work for it is a sin.  Check your motivations.  Are you wanting to tell others about what you are doing… in other words, are you wanting to display your works?  This is difficult, but you must mortify, and continue to mortify, that desire.  There are entire cults built on works who have convinced themselves that their works based religion is what sets them apart from true Christianity.  Pay no attention to anyone who tries to tell you that they have found the right way because they are “doing” the work.  It is vanity.  And speak of your works with humility when you must.

Finally, Jesus said that it was better that He leave, and for the Holy Spirit to come.  Learn to discern.  Jesus has given you the lighter yoke.  If you are burdened with a heavy works-based burden, you have taken on the wrong yoke.  He will give you rest.  His burden is light.  Doing His “work” is not toil, but pleasant, with grace in failure.

I pray for you dear children that God would work “in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” And I pray that you would take on and feel the lightness of his yoke as you rest in His salvation.  It really is an amazing thing, and He is worthy of all praise, honor and glory for that salvation which he worked on the cross and in His resurrection.

Your father

False Freedoms And Freedom Indeed

Dear children,

You will hear words like “liberty” and “freedom” bandied about.  But these words more times than not are sorely misunderstood in this age.  They imply something that is impossible, which is that man can be free.  But man is not free.  Life itself binds us.  So we are left to choose one set of freedoms over others, all of them coming with their own set of snares and constraints.

Kris Kristofferson penned the now famous words, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” some years ago, and yes, the freedom he was referring to is a kind of freedom.  Having nothing to lose, nothing to claim as your own, nobody to love, or to love you, or no material possessions that can be used as leverage to control you does provide for a sort of freedom.  A homeless panhandler, for example, might have that kind of freedom.  What can anyone do to him?  But he’s not free to go home, or to know the joy of providing for a family, just to name a couple of the things he’s not free to do.

Marxism offers a concept of freedom for others.  This is the freedom that comes with being a ward of someone or something much more powerful than one’s self.  So big all-encompassing governments are empowered and charged with making sure that all have food, clothes and shelter, and that no one has more material wealth than anyone else.  In short they are charged with making everything fair.  But in order to achieve such a world heavy handed laws must be enacted and enforced with an iron fist.  Man is then freed from the necessity of effort.  He need not apply himself to anything, for doing so will reap him nothing more or less in return.  For many this is a coveted freedom.  Those who long for this freedom are easily recognized because they worship an ideological concept: equality.  But with all the words spoken, and the millions murdered in order to achieve such “freedom”, no equality has ever been achieved,  only misery, poverty and captivity.

For some hedonism is liberty.  Our bodies want to sleep, be comfortable, and most of all to experience pleasure.  But to run after these things without constraint is self destructive.  Our bodies, or as the Bible puts it, our flesh, is by its nature self destructive.  It can never be satisfied.  It can never get enough of what it craves constantly.   At some point our bodies want to sedate themselves with drugs and alcohol, to take away the pain brought on by self destruction, which causes even more self destruction.  It’s a downward spiral.  Yes, there is a freedom in casting off all restraint, but in the end it leads to death.

For others still, lots of money is freedom.  They cast off the restraint of slothfulness that the body attempts to impose, and they work really hard in hopes of great reward.  They are then free to have nice things.  But they are not free to be satisfied with those nice things, or to stay home from work.

There are so many freedoms that we can go chasing after.  But in the end there is no freedom.  In the end we will live out what Solomon called, “vanity of vanities”.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun? ” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 )

All freedoms have merit.  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  Who desires to toil day and night only to be exploited by the lords of the market place?  Who wants to be poor?  But all of these “freedoms” involve submission to masters, none of which are righteous.  But there is a righteous master to whom we can submit.  His name is Jesus.  And He is a ruler, make no mistake about that.

The Bible tells us that this ruler came to set the captives free.  This ruler tells us that in Him there is freedom to be found.  And when we find that freedom, we will be free indeed.  So the question is, what is this freedom that Jesus offers?  To answer, why don’t we first take the scriptures on their face value.  They too tell us that we are not “free”.

I’ll show you two examples.

In the first one Jesus asks us to throw off the heavy yoke.  We must understand that that word, “yoke” is a word that points to a master to whom our will must bend.

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

Jesus is pointing to a freedom here, but not freedom in the sense that man normally thinks of it.  He is not saying that we are able to cast off everything that constrains, for that would be impossible in this fallen world.  He offers us an exchange.  Beware therefore of anyone who ever implies total freedom, for such does not exist, and an awful snare awaits those who believe such things.

The second passage points to another kind of master, the shepheard:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  (John 10:21)

Jesus is our shepherd, which means He is our authority.  We are free to graze in His pastor, but we are not free to graze wherever our flesh demands.  But Jesus does speak of freedom, and even a “freedom indeed”.  So what is that freedom?  If Jesus came to “set the captives free”, then what are we captive to?  The answer is “sin”.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  (Jn 8:35-36)

Jesus here is in a discourse on the subject of slavery.  Those who opposed him were claiming to be free.  They rejected Jesus’ assertion that they were in fact slaves.  But the slavery of which Jesus spoke was worse than simply being a slave to an earthly master.  One might hope to eventually break such bonds as those.  But no man can break the bonds of sin.  He is a slave to it for life except that he surrender to the good master, his very creator, who alone has the keys to unlock those chains.

Dear children, I would that you not go chasing after the things of this world which make empty promises, but that you would chase after your Heavenly Father.  It is my desire for you that you seek the face of God, and that eternity would ever be in your sights.  I pray that you would put Jesus’ yoke on you, and that you would answer to His commands so that you might experience joy in this life that cannot be taken away or stolen by circumstances.  I pray that you would fix your eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen with your eyes is all temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal; they will not pass away!

In our hearts, we want freedom.  And I pray for you dear children that you would find the kind of freedom that will make you free indeed, that we may enjoy it forever.  Amen.

Your father.

God Is Love, And Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Dear children

You, being human beings, have a propensity to see what you want to see, and to not see what you don’t want to see.  We all have this fault to one degree or another.  I know I do.  The singer Paul Simon wrote a popular song many years ago with the lyrics: “All lies and jests, Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”  I think Paul got this one right.  But also, like most of our faults, we can more easily see this in others than in ourselves.  But see it in ourselves we must, by looking beyond our assumptions to find truth; which is easier said than done.  In fact, much more than that, we must ask God, indeed earnestly beseech Him, to show us truth.

So why do I say such things?  We, being human, also have a propensity to see God the way we want to see Him, and to disregard those things about Him that we don’t want to see.  We in fact must resist turning the God of the scriptures into a god of our own making.  We’d sure rather have a god that we don’t need to fear more so than one that strikes fear in us.  But our desires don’t dictate reality.  If the Bible says over and over again that we ought to fear God, ignoring all those verses by misinterpreting one verse that would, on the surface, seem to suggest that we need not fear God, would not be wise; as in, “The-fear-of- the-Lord-is-the-beginning-of-wisdom” not wise.  (Prov 9:10)

To help us ignore most of what the Bible tells us about fearing God, there is a go-to verse that we often hear quoted.  “Perfect love casts out fear”.  Here is the passage from which it is taken in its entirety:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1st John 4)

This raises a couple of questions.  First, are we suppose to fear God or not?  Second, why do we need to fear a loving God?

The answer is yes, we are supposed to fear God.  And second, yes, we need to fear Him because He is Loving.  We fear Him, not because of His love, but because of our lack of it, as this passage beautifully points out.  So let us look more closely.

As it turns out, the Bible has a lot to say about love and fear.  The word Love is mentioned often in the Bible, and more often than not–actually most often–it refers to us loving God, and us loving our fellow man.  Read the passage above and you’ll see a microcosm of how the word “love” is used throughout the entire Bible.  Out of all the times it’s used, only one is a proclamation of God’s love for those who are His.( verse 10)

Also, in a passage like this with such a rich emphasis on love, it would behoove us to understand what is meant by that word.  That, in itself, will be a life long project for you.  Grasping the love of God is no small feat.  But this passage gives us a good hint, as is similar to most others that proclaim God’s love.  Right next to the proclamation of God’s love for us is an allusion to the cross.  (…and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.)  It is a rare thing actually to see God’s love proclaimed in the New Testament without an allusion to the cross nearby.

So, if we can look past our biases and assumptions we can see that this passage is about two things: 1)our love for God, 2) and mainly, our love for our fellow man.  But key to understanding the point I’m trying to make using this passage is the word “perfect”, for that word has caused many a soul to set this verse against what the entire rest of the Bible teaches.  In verse 12 we see the first use of the word “perfect, which has to do with our love for others brought about by His love abiding in us.  The second use (perfected) is in verse 17, and again it refers to our love, not Gods.  And in the next verse we see it (perfected) for the third time.  “Perfect love casts out fear“.  After the semicolon the same point is restated, “…whoever fears has not been perfected in love”.  The “whoever”, by the way, is not referring to God, but us.  So this ought to raise a question.  Do you love God perfectly?  Are you perfected in love?  If you can answer yes, then you need not fear God, and the entire rest of the Bible can be ignored by you because you have already been perfected.  I, on the other hand, still fear God, and until I am removed from this sinful body, and stand before the judgement seat of Christ clothed in His righteousness, I don’t see that changing.

In the end, pulling a Bible verse from the context of the rest of the Bible, and then using it for the purpose of–in the words of Paul Simon–disregarding the rest,  is unwise.  If you study this passage you will see that it is in complete agreement with the rest of scripture’s command to fear God, so we should, therefore, fear God.  We ought not, by the command of scripture, create a god in our minds that need not be feared.

I pray for you my dear children, that you would understand who God is, and that you would love and fear him, for that is right.  I pray that you would worship Him in spirit and truth, the true Him, and not a made-up version of Him that you find more appealing.  May our Father in heaven bring this about in your minds and hearts as you grow in revelation and love for your Father and Savior.

Your father

 

Believers believe And Skeptics Are Skeptical. That’s What They Do.

Dear children,

I must tell you that many times in my Christian walk my faith has been shaken.  And, I’ve learned a few things in the process that I’d like to pass along.

First, remember that your faith is faith.  We do not have faith in what we can see but what we can’t see.  If we could see God in the same sense that we can see the sun, we wouldn’t need faith, we’d just look up and there He would be.  But while we must have faith that God exists, it isn’t a blind faith, or a faith that we have in spite of evidence to the contrary.  No, there are millions of reasons to have faith in God based on lots of evidence and sound arguments.  But, as the scriptures point out, all the reasons in the world are not enough if God does not grant us the gift of faith.  As His enemies, man will look for any reason to reject Him, reasonable or not.

I make this point so that you will do everything in your power to keep your faith.  There will be times when it will be weak, or even seemingly non-existent.  It is then that you need to contend for it.  You must fight.

It’s much easier to be a sceptic and simply look for a way to pick everyone else’s world apart while at the same time having faith that there is no truth in your own world.  The sceptic doesn’t have to bother with making his beliefs consistent.  He can attack Christians for believing that there is absolute truth on one day, then accuse them of lying on another day.  He can talk about how important it is that all be well educated in one breath and then in another insist that life is ultimately meaningless.  He can decry that children are unhealthy while doing everything in his power to make sure their slaughter is legal.  He is a sceptic.  His basis is not have to have a worldview or belief.  His basis is that there is no basis, and on that basis he seeks simply to question and destroy the basis of other’s.

You will know this person when you meet him.  He has questions, but he doesn’t want answers.  His questions are not based in a search for answers, indeed he doesn’t even believe there are any.  Rather his questions are nothing more than darts aimed at your faith.  He doesn’t offer anything in replacement of your faith, he simply doesn’t want you to have faith, and for good reason.

The Bible says that you–if you are in Christ–are the light of the world and that light exposes evil deeds.  All humans know deep down that there is a God, and they know that they are sinners.  So they spend their lives suppressing that truth in order to anesthetize themselves against their ultimate destiny.  If they can snuff out your light, it will sooth their inner souls concerning that eternal destinies.  They will be tireless in their efforts to reinforce the lies that they have bought into in order to serve their sinful flesh and its desires.

But peace with God is worth more than any temporary and shallow experience that your flesh promises to offer.  It is not temporary.  It cannot be stolen.  It’s not based on your own abilities to earn it.  It’s not based on your beauty, intellect or riches, all of which are fleeting.  It will be with you in good times and bad and to the end of your days.  It will allow you to look back at your life and say, it is well.

Dear children, I so desire that you will find the pearl of great price; the joy found in peace with God.  To be cynical, angry and bitter, and at war with God is the easy road.  Just follow your heart.  It’s downhill all the way.  But to follow God will bring you Joy and peace, which I pray that you will wear like a garment throughout your lives.

Your father

God’s Love Is Not Like Man’s Love

Dear children,

I confess my shortcomings.  I have the common deficiency of man in that I am not qualified to discuss God’s love, for who can know it?  It would be a worthy life’s goal in fact for you to actually search out the depth of His love in hope that you might understand a sliver of it.  If you do that much, you will have exceeded your father.  Still, there are a few things concerning God’s love that I do feel qualified to address which mainly concern what God’s love is not.

We humans think we understand a few things about love.  But what we understand more than anything is our love of self.  For example, consider Elvis Presley’s hit song, “Love Me Tender”.

Love me tender,
love me sweet,
never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
and I love you so.

It’s a pretty little song; moving in fact.  And we can understand that there is an affection and attraction that occurs between a man and a woman, and that these attractions hold a special place in our hearts.  But even in this kind of love, when our emotions and chemistry threaten to whisk us away, much of what we experience is the love of self.

We can kind of gather this from the writer’s lyrics.  We can pick up on his obvious fixation on himself by asking a few questions like, What if she didn’t return his love with sweet and tender love?  What if she actually couldn’t complete his life?  What if she wasn’t pleasing to his eyes?  In fact, what if she did everything she could to resist his love and demonstrate to him every chance she got that she hated him?  Would he still love her? Probably not, because any man would love himself too much to put up with a response like that.  There’s no return in it.  Men and women are more in the habit of abandoning the one whom they once “loved” than they are in loving the unlovable.  But people don’t abandon those they love as much as they abandon the people who can no longer please the one person they love more than anything else in the world, themselves.

It’s probably as difficult for us to grasp who we are in Christ as it is to grasp who we are without Him.  We look at ourselves and cannot see the abhorrence of our sin, and our filthiness before a holy and righteous God.  In fact, in our sinful condition, we reject the very notion that we are abhorrent.  But in doing so we miss the love of God.  It is not fascinating for, say Ken, to pursue the beautiful Barbie and the paradise that would seem to come with conquering her.  That is the natural and normal way.  But what if Ken didn’t pursue Barbie, but instead pursued the dirtiest and ugliest woman he could find, one who not only hated him, but cheated on him every chance she got?  What would be “beautiful” about that love?  The answer, much! even if man doesn’t have the eyes to see it.

Now consider if Ken was a rich king, and he transforms this wretched woman into a radiant bride at the cost of his very own life?  By seeing it this way a different beauty begins to emerge.  It’s not like the handsome prince who pursues and eventually wins the beautiful bride.  He pursues and wins the worst among us, and then redeems them.  It is at that point also that we can begin to see that the more wretched the woman, the more beautiful His ultimate love turns out to be.  So in the future, when you read, “while we were yet sinners”, keep this in mind.  It is, to your father, five of the most beautiful and loving words in the entire Bible.

A formidable barrier to grasping God’s love is our love for our self which makes us see ourselves more highly than we ought to.  We see ourselves as deserving the love of God.  But we do not.  So I say this in the most loving way I know how,  God does not love you because you are special, or because you deserve it.  There simply isn’t anything in scripture that would suggest that he does.  If you were special enough to deserve God’s love, then you would have every reason to boast.  But the scriptures are clear, no man has a reason to boast.

So why does God love any of us?  I have no idea.  All I know is that I was a picture of the wretched woman who hated and despised Him, and He loved me.  We can also ask, why did God love Jacob and hate Esau?  But it would be a futile question.  Pray that God would show you His love.  Once you understand it you will begin to see, I think, that God’s love is not quite so cheap as to be earnable by any man.

This brings us to another point that’s difficult to talk about in this day.  God does not love everyone unconditionally.  You will hear this said a lot, but it is not true.  It is true that there is no condition by which we can earn His love.  And we might can say that God loves everyone in some sense.  He sends rain on the righteous and the wicked alike for example.  But to say that God loves everyone unconditionally cannot be found in scripture.  The real question that you need to settle is this one, does God love you?  And the only way you can answer yes is if you are in Christ, and Christ is in you.  Because God loves His Son.

So it is through the Cross that God loves us and this is blatant throughout scripture.  So I have an assignment for you.  When you read of God’s love in the New Testament, I want you to look for the cross nearby.  We can see it, for example, in John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world...”, OK there’s God’s love, and next comes the cross, “…that he gave His only Son…”  You will find that there are very few exceptions in the New Testament in which God’s love for man is pronounced without the cross being right there.  So to understand God’s love, we must ourselves not stray from the cross.

My dear children, to broach the subject of God’s love is a difficult thing to attempt while keeping this letter within the confines I have set for myself.  There is no end to such a discussion, indeed through the ages it has been a paramount topic.  Jonathan Edwards is attributed to be God’s spark that kindled a great awakening a couple of hundred of years ago.  The sermon he preached was entitled, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”.  That is a foreign concept today, but not to God.  It is in such a sermon, and its elements, that someone discovers the extent of the true love of God.

So, dear children, if you ever doubt that God loves you, pray.  Pray that He would love you.  Ask Him to show you His love.  Ask Him to manifest his love in you by transforming you into the likeness of His Son, and the radiant bride of His Son.  Ask him that His love would kindle a love within your own soul for your Savior and others.  I and your mother will be praying for you both also.

Your father

A Familiar Story Of Apostatizing Youth

Dear children,

As you might imagine I am keenly interested in any advice that would help me to help you develop a stronger faith.  So when I see an article entitled 3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church, it gets my attention.  It is but one of many appropriate articles that express concern at the number of today’s youth who are abandoning their Christian faith when they leave home.  But what caught my attention, and what I would like to discuss in this letter, was a comment left by a young woman, fresh from her parent’s home herself, who explained why she abandoned her “faith”.  The first half:

These articles keep popping up all over the place in my feed and I find it so interesting. You see I am one of those kids. I am one that was raised in a very Christian home and now am definitely not a believer. I was very involved in my church. I sang up front many many sundays. I helped out in the nursery. My entire social life was wrapped around the church. That was all I knew. I loved God. I read the Bible cover to cover many many times. I prayed fervently on the constant. I witnessed to those around me. I published a Christian girl’s online magazine/newsletter. I served at the nursing home about once a month. I went to Africa with the Jesus Film. I was the definition of “youth that don’t leave the church.” You say it’s not a formula and yet you basically endorse it as if it is. 

As a father I can say that I would be encouraged by these things; encouraged yes, but not persuaded.  Your mother and I do the best we can to examine your hearts.  We don’t just assume that your conformity to the surroundings that we’ve immersed you in is evidence of a regenerated heart.  For all we know, a different environment will bring about a different conformity. We can see that this has been the case with this poor soul.

When she continues with her comment she transitions from herself as the topic to accusations against the Church.  She explains why not any of the external evidences that she manifested earlier mattered in the end:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked. I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity. I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore. I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics. I left because I had discovered what real love looked like. I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace….Instead of writing articles on why the youth are or aren’t leaving the church, why not just ask us? You may be really surprised at our answers. 🙂  

I’d like to respond to this part of her comment for your sake.  So let’s look at each statement individually.  She starts:

I’ll just say in my case, I am a naturally very curious person. 

Curiosity is a human trait. No one need deny it in order to be a Christian, nor does having more of it keep anyone from being a Christianity.  But we do begin to pick up on a veiled arrogance as we read this sentence in the context of the rest of the comment.  It is but an arrogant assumption that curiosity and Christianity are not compatible, which is an unsubstantiated assumption.  That arrogance will become more blatant as we continue with her comment.

 And I had questions about Christianity that apparently are not really encouraged to be asked.

You will hear this accusation often, but is it true?  Does “Christianity” really discourage the asking of questions?  While I can’t speak to her personal experience, I can speak to Christianity in general.  But before I do, I’d like to speak to her–unwitting I’m sure–sleight of hand in this statement.  She makes a general indictment against a very large, old and encompassing thing, Christianity.  And she bases it on a narrow and limited thing, her experience.  Where was her curiosity?  If she felt discouraged from asking questions in her limited experience, why didn’t she go elsewhere for answers?   She is, after all, living in the age of the internet, with lots of answers at her fingertips available to anyone with just a little bit of curiosity.  But man is a blame shifter by nature, and he is quick to shift blame from self to others, and I think that’s what’s happening here.  I’ve never been discouraged from asking questions.  That’s been my experience.  And I certainly haven’t discouraged you from asking them.  But even if I had been discouraged I would not have been thwarted, I have more curiosity than that.

But there is another side to this equation.  Some of the answers will necessarily be, “I don’t know.”, which is the truth.  And that is the rub for many I think.  There is so much that we don’t know.  But remember that this will be true regardless of whether you are an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever.  It is not as if this poor soul has moved into a system of thought that has all the answers.  We can know she hasn’t.  But as far as Christianity is concerned, God promises to save us from our sins.  He doesn’t promise to make us all knowing.

I found a huge gap between Christianity and authenticity.

Here I’m sure she has a point.  She herself was obviously not authentic.  But even had she been authentic, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity within the Church.  Jesus tells us that weeds are planted among the wheat.  So it should not have surprised her.  But even if she were surrounded by “wheat” only, she would have still been surrounded by inauthenticity.  This raises a serious question that demands an answer.  If others had looked at her life alone, and judged Christianity on it alone, would they have seen a “huge gap between Christianity and authenticity”?  I know the answer because I know humans.  The answer is yes, they would have seen a gap.  So have grace my dear children on your brothers and sisters in the Lord.  They are running a race and fighting the fight just as are you.  True authenticity is the admission to each other that we are not authentic.  The believer understands this.  The unbeliever can’t.

But I will chalk this up to her youth, which is naturally idealistic.  She will in time discover that no matter what she pursues, the lack of authenticity will be a part of it.  Even if she pursues lawlessness, she will still be inauthentic, because she will be offended when others steal from her, harm her, lie to her and so on.  Should she become an environmentalist, a secular humanist, an activist, it won’t matter.  She will still be in the midst of inauthenticity, and I can say this with the utmost confidence.  Why?  Because man is fallen.  He can’t be authentic in anything. There was only one authentic person to ever live, and she has rejected Him.  She will eventually have to either accept this fact, or shut down her curiosity altogether.  She will have to lie to herself, which might finally, after all, allow her to exist in an authentic, if unreal, world.  Man is most authentic when he is deceiving himself.

I left because it wasn’t real to me anymore.  I left because I saw how it’s all a show and fear tactics.

Given the rest of her comment this makes sense.  But it raises yet more questions.  What is real?  If she was so convinced all her life that Christianity was the real thing, and then it suddenly becomes unreal, what then?  How can she ever trust herself in judging “realness” again?  She will necessarily discover, with even a tiny bit of curiosity, that this lack of realness will follow her wherever she goes, unless, again, she deceives herself.  Christianity confronts the lack of realness head on.  It provides answers concerning our purpose, evil, pain and suffering.  That is real.  She won’t find these answers elsewhere.  At best she will only be able to expend herself attempting the impossible task of rebuilding Eden.  And she will fail like the millions who have attempted it before her.

I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity. I left because I FINALLY found peace.

The vail has been removed now and she is revealing her true reason for leaving, which is that she hates God.  She hates Him because He is Sovereign, and she is at war with Him, hence no peace.  But most of all she hates Him because he is Just.  She, like all people, has broken God’s law.  She, like you and I, have lied, and stolen, and have hated–which Jesus equates to murder.  We are all guilty, and there is a just reward for us all in our guilt.  But God, in his love, sent his Son to die on the cross.  He has reconciled us to Him through His Son.  He has made peace with us.  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  Sure, there is a measure of peace that can be found in living in self-deception.  Whistling in the dark can gain a measure of peace I suppose.  But it doesn’t change the reality that not only will she sin against those around her, those around her will sin against her.  And while her sin might not seem all that bad to her, we can know that the sin of others, who do not buy into her way of thinking, will steal back what peace she might muster, and then some.

I left because I had discovered what real love looked like.

This is arrogance completely unveiled.  Can she really believe that she, a young person in the 21st century, has figured something out that 2000 years of scholars, martyrs and devouts missed?  Evidently so, and there is the arrogance.  Those lovers of God would be in tears to “learn” that the whole thing has been nothing but a hoax, perpetrated on hundreds of millions of people over thousands of years.  But not her.  Oh no.  She’s smarter than all that, and in her thinking herself smarter, she exudes pride.  She knows what real love is, and all those who have gone before were fooled, lacking perhaps the curiosity to not be fooled.  They had no idea what real love was.

Her curiosity ought to have led her to the realization of her ignorance.  Real love was Jesus dying on the cross for those who hated God, and then reconciling them to Himself while they were in the very act of warring against Him.  That’s real love.  Real love has nothing to do with feelings.  It has nothing to do with what’s in it for me… like achieving a few temporary and fleeting warm and fuzzies.  Dear children, please understand, you do not want her “real love”.  The love of self, and how others, or things, make the “self” feel is often mistaken for love.  But in reality it is only self-centeredness.

 

So what do I, your father, think about this?  I think that she is the victim of her times.  You will notice that she rejected a religion, and not the Gospel.  It is a religion that preaches grace without justice.  And, “God loves you unconditionally”  is a religious message devoid of the Gospel, and devoid of a need for the Gospel.  But you will hear it preached time and again.  And it will be preached to unsaved people who are already convinced that God loves them.  And some of them, with a little more curiosity, will know that the threat of eternal Hell fires make the message of unconditional love seem ever so slightly… inauthentic. In fact it is this very thing that she is pointing to in her statement: “I left because I honestly can’t believe in a God that created us so he could enjoy us and yet send most of his creation to Hell for eternity.” 

You will live in a time that has confused social service and unreal love with the Gospel, which removes the power from Christianity and relegates it to just another religion.  The Gospel is key, but the Gospel is not about how great you are in God’s eyes, but rather about what a sorry state you are in, in God’s eyes.  That is an extremely unpopular message in this day.  But once you understand it, the Gospel, and grace, are beautiful; much too beautiful to trade in for a worldly counterfeit.

I came out of the world that this poor girl has fallen in love with.  I know what lies ahead for her and can only hope she will be “very curious” after all.  But for me, I will never forget the words of Peter in John 6.  Jesus had just preached what seemed to those present to be a bizarre message, that one must drink His blood, and eat His flesh to have eternal life.  Most abandoned Him on hearing this, but not His disciples.  After all were gone, Jesus looked at them and asked, “Are you going to leave Me too?”  Peter responded, “To whom shall we go?”   If this girl had received the Gospel, if she had understood justice, and then mercy, she would have asked the same question.  “To whom shall I go?”  She would have known that that question is the question of the ages.

I pray that God would arrest you.  That you would understand justice too, and then mercy.  I pray that you would understand, in the great scheme of things that extend outward, far beyond your being, what a great salvation the salvation offered us through the cross is.

Your father

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

Dear children,

I want to say something to you that I admit scares me.  It scares me because I’m going to challenge you to choose whom you will serve.  I understand that by doing this I may be also challenging you to turn your back on the only hope for eternal salvation that you have, and the thought of you doing that is enough to keep me awake at night.  Yet I’d rather that you not be deceived.  I’d rather that you turn your back on Jesus, and know it, than to live your life with your back to Him anyway, and not know it.  I’d also rather not be deceived myself.  I’d rather not have to constantly search for evidence in your life, having to twist the least sliver of it into some kind of comfort for myself that all is well with your soul, while knowing deep down that all is not well.

Once you leave my house, if you manage to show up for church on Sunday mornings I will be pleased because your presence there will give me hope that your external act of coming to church will be a true reflection of what is happening in your heart.  But if the seed that was planted there becomes unfruitful, or simply dies, your presence in church will only serve to deceive.  Worse, it may deceive you more than it does anyone else, and that would be a tragedy.

The Bible tells us that when we have idols, we become like them; though having eyes we are unseeing, and though having ears unhearing.  (Ps 115, Mt 13)  We humans are masters at self-deception you see.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live a life of neutrality, neither being for Jesus or against Him.  Or we deceive ourselves into believing that we can serve Him and other masters too; that we can somehow straddle the fence between God’s kingdom and this world.  But the scriptures explicitly deny this option.  We see it when Joshua admonishes the Israelites to make up their minds, to choose whom they will serve, either the LORD, or other gods.  We see it when Jesus warns us that we will either gather or scatter, that we will either be for Him, or against Him.  Any middle ground you think you might hold is, all of it, set against Jesus.  He admonishes us in Revelations to either be hot or cold, and that lukewarm repulses Him.  It’s better for us to accept that reality and either embrace or reject Jesus than it is to live a life of delusion, thinking that we are co-heirs in one kingdom when in reality we are mere subjects in another.

So what does this mean?  At issue here is your heart.  There are the externals, yes.  But then there is the heart, the part of us with which Jesus is concerned.  We can live a lie and fool people by our externals.   But Jesus called those who do that white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones.   While man looks on the outside, you see, God looks at the heart.  It’s not how we appear on the outside therefore that matters, it’s who we are on the inside.  So the question that you need to keep asking yourself is, how is my heart?  Does my sin bother me enough to repent?  Do I really fear God?  These are important questions that we need to ever be asking ourselves.  I have found John’s first letter to be a great help in this matter.  This passage is from chapter 1:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  (1 John 1:5-10)

John teaches us what to do with the sin in our lives.  He’s speaking to those who are “walking in the light”, and yet he acknowledges that those who do walk in the light still sin.  We must discern between the externals and the heart, even in ourselves.  The externals are the things we do to draw the praise of men and to make ourselves acceptable to our culture or community.  But the heart concerns who we know we really are, and who God knows we really are.  Sin must be dealt with in the heart.  And we either do this through the blood of Jesus, or we attempt to rationalize it away somehow, or to shift blame or something else.  But the sin remains.  Later in John’s same letter we read:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4-10)

The key word to understand in this passage is “practice”.  To try to please your Father in heaven and fail is one thing, and it is a Christian thing.  But to use God’s love, expressed through the death of His Son on the cross, as a licence to practice sin is another thing altogether.  The difference is a heart difference.  One heart will love the sin more than it loves Jesus.  It will twist Jesus’ words to rationalize.  It will blame shift.  It will accuse those who call it to repentance of being mean-spirited and judgemental.  But the other heart will be broken.  It will beat its chest and cry out, Lord be merciful to me, a sinner!  It will run the race with perseverance, and fight to cast off those sins that so easily entangle it, because its eyes will be fixed on Jesus.

In the end, it is better, I think, to reject Jesus than to live in deception, thinking that you are in Him when in reality you are not.   But, if you choose to fight the good fight, and to run the race with perseverance, you will find yourself in the company of many fellows fighters, runners, and yes, forgivers and sinners too in the Body of Christ.  That’s just how his body functions.

So I pray, that you seek the face of your God, that you repent, and that you live a life of repentance.  I pray that you experience the joy of salvation, the taste of which will make the seemingly sweetest sweets of this world taste bitter.  It is your father’s prayer, and so I pray it.  Lord, please arrest the hearts of of the children you have entrusted to me.

Your father

Judge Yourself First

Dear children,

Your existence will be one marked by transition.  Even as I write this I am in transition, and as you read it you will be also.  From what you will be transitioning our of and into at any given time is hard to say, but know that you will always be in transition.  So since transition itself is a given, it would be wise to be in control of it lest some awful new idea of man, that seems good at the time, leads you astray.  I direct you right away to the Bible.  Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world, with its lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life, but rather be transformed into Christ likeness by the renewing of our minds.  But to conform to this world is to transition also with the world as it meanders through an existence by which the writer of Ecclesiastes calls meaninglessness.

Of particular interest in this letter however is your own sin, and how you look at it, or see it.  We humans have a propensity to give ourselves a pass when it comes to our own sin, a pass that we are not so willing to give to others.  My mind does not see a particular thing that I’m guilty of in the same light as it see others who are guilty of the same thing.  But I’ve been in transition concerning this truth for a long time, and I’ve come to the conclusion that seeing my own sin rightly involves three separate outworkings that are taking place.

First, we live in a world that is self-oriented.  What I mean by self-oriented is when one appeals to their inner self as a reference point by which all things are to be judged.  If I like something, for example, it is good. If something repulses me,  it is bad.  With a mindset like this, you can see how my view of my own sin is skewed.  The scriptures speak to this mindset by the way.  It says that that is “living according to the flesh”.

I would advise you to read all of Roman’s one and two.  Paul goes into considerable detail inventorying the sins “they” commit in chapter 1.  But pay close attention to chapter two.  Notice that he stops directing his words to “them”, and instead directs them to “you”, which means “us”.  However harshly we judge “their” sin, know this, it is not nearly as harshly as God judges them, for He is Holy, and we are not.  So we ought to judge our own sins in the same light, and in the same way.  Seeing the sin of others gives us some perspective.  We can begin to get an objective view of how our own sin looks from the outside.  And our own sin ought to be more repulsive to us than the sins of others.  This will have the effect of keeping us humble, and growing us up in Christ, as we ought to be.  This is what Jesus meant, I think, when he instructed us to first remove the log from our own eye.  But if we are self-oriented we might be tempted to get this backward.  This is done by basing my judgments of things on me.  I might assume that logs in eyes must not be bad because if they were I wouldn’t have one in my eye.  So since I do have one in my eye, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing, so why in the world would I want to pick the one out of my brother’s eye?  That would be backward from the intent of this scripture of course, but it’s how it is most commonly lived out I think.  But the goal Jesus had in mind was that both logs and splinters would be removed from everyone’s eyes.

Second, when you see the sins of others, always look at it as through a mirror.  See it behind the image in the foreground, which is you.  Know that you do things just as bad, or maybe even the same things.  This will help you put away any harshness in your heart.  The harshness of the truth is plenty sufficient.  Be ready to walk alongside any who desire to repent, as you allow others to walk alongside you as you repent.  Help the brother in sin, if he desires it.  Do not fear rebuking a brother, for it is the loving thing to do.  Do not reject the rebuke of your brother for if he does not rebuke you when he ought to, he is not following the great command of loving you.  I would suggest you never accuse anyone of judging you, but rather judge yourself.  If you feel someone else is judging you, then let the light of their judgements either vindicate or convict you.

Also, when you witness the sins of those outside of the Body of Christ, realize that they cannot not sin.  Do not get angry at the individual, but rather have compassion.  His only hope of ever seeing himself in the hands of an angry God is through the Gospel.  Clothe yourself therefore in the Gospel of Jesus, which calls sinners to repentance of sin, and into the glorious light.  Have grace for failures just as you need grace for your own.

Third, Western Civilization is in decline and becoming darker.  It is therefore tempting for one to see himself more highly than he ought.  You may be tempted, having been cleaned up a little, to compare yourselves to others and then think of yourselves wrongly.  The renewing of the mind, however, ought to take us in a different direction and instead focus our sights on Jesus, who is holy and righteous.  When we then see our own sin in the light of His holiness grace becomes an amazing thing.  Our view of grace is proportional to our view of sin, so see your sin in the proper light so that you will live with a proper attitude of thanksgiving.

I pray for you, that you would transition into warriors, with the accouterments of the warrior.  I pray that you would wield God’s word with precision and that God’s armor would protect you as you advance His Kingdom.   I pray that you would grow stronger by casting off every sin that entangles by seeing it in the true light that you ought to.  I pray for you, I, your father, pray for you that these things will mark you.

Your father

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