OF MANKIND AND BAD APPLES

Here’s something you never want to see… There, in the middle of a what you thought was a delicious, shiny apple is a worm, creeping out as if to defy you to take another bite. Um, no thank you, I’ll pass!

But how does it get inside the apple to start with? We may think it burrows its way from the outside, but the opposite is actually true. A fruit fly inserts a small, hollow tube from her body into a young apple. Then she releases her egg through the tube.  Soon afterwards, the egg hatches into a tiny white worm in the heart of the apple. *

 Apple 2

You may think I’m exaggerating with what I’m about to say, but I believe that bad apples and mankind have one thing in common – we’re both rotten to the core.

This is explained when you study the doctrine of Total Depravity as it refers to the inward condition of man. The Bible says that the heart of man is “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), born dead in transgression and sin (Psalm 51:5Psalm 58:3Ephesians 2:1-5).  This is not to say that an individual is as bad as he could possibly be, but that every part of him is tainted by his sin, that there is nothing within him that naturally wants to seek God. (Romans 3:10-11). To think that we are anything more is a delusion of pride.

In fact, the thought that we are all inherently evil may be downright offensive in this day and age, when “feeling good about yourself” is the chief goal of self-help books and even so-called Christian books. I’m not promoting an unbalanced, guilt-ridden view of man. What I am trying to do is shine a light on the fact that the Bible never says anything about having a “high SELF-esteem. When it states anything about the value of man, it’s always in light of what Christ has done for us. The thinking that we are polished and pleasing in ourselves alone is as deceptive as a beautiful apple that is really rotten inside.

Which is easier? To be selfish and greedy or to give to others? To lie or to suffer under the truth? The answer is easy. With no constraints, it’s much easier to seek ourselves and our own gain above anything else. To borrow a popular phrase, (and quite accurately in this case), we’re born that way. Think about it. Have you ever met a baby that doesn’t demand its own way? They have no concept of how their actions effect others. They make their needs known no matter what time of the day or night it might be. We don’t have to teach them how to be self-centered. However, they do have to be taught morals, selflessness, kindness or any other trait we hold valuable.

King David referred to this sin nature. He said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Elsewhere, He states, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies” (Psalm 58:3).

Like the worm in the apple, sin didn’t originate outside of ourselves, we inherited it within ourselves from our first earthly father, Adam. Genesis 3:1-7 describes the first sin of man, which was Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. From that point on, human nature was tainted and passed down from generation to generation. Think of it this way: Nothing holy can come from what is unholy, like a bad seed cannot produce good fruit.

Romans 5:1 say it in a nutshell:

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

We were condemned through one man, Adam, but we are justified (made right), through Christ (the second man mentioned, uppercase).

You see, Jesus Christ was never stained by original sin. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (born of a virgin) and not of man. (Matthew 1:18, Isaiah 7:14). This means that He bypassed the sin nature of Adam. Equally important, He alone lived a perfect and holy life; He was the only One suitable to take on the condemnation we deserve, making the way possible for us  to stand blameless  before a holy God.

So if it is clear that no man naturally seeks God, how can anyone be saved? The answer is that God must overcome man’s depravity and open his eyes to his spiritual state, the condition of his core being. To understand that man cannot save himself may shatter the false hope of striving to be “good enough” for God. Yet it rightfully puts the high and exalted view of God as Sovereign, glorious, and our only hope.

To God be the Glory.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6, ESV).

*http://superbeefy.com/how-do-worms-get-into-apples/

JIMMY NEEDHAM’S “CLEAR THE STAGE”: A MUST HEAR

Dear Friends,

We have heard so much about how this country is running from God lately. We’ve seen blatant examples of that in this past week, but can we stop long enough to admit something?

We, as believers, can run from God too. I think we’ve all been there – We run from God when we ignore prayer and let our unconfessed sin fester within us. We run from God when we disregard our nagging conscience, knowing that our fellowship with God suffers for it.

We may try to cover it up by living as if all is well…or will be well, if only we work harder, do more, or have more fun. Our lives can become blinded with busy-ness and frivolity. There’s no sense of urgency to what is important, and no honesty to ourselves or anyone else. Our souls cry for a time-out, yet our pride yells to keep going. Our pre-occupations become idols that have taken the place of God in our lives. What is revival if we, ourselves, aren’t humble and real and broken before the Lord?

That’s why I wanted to share this song with you. It isn’t often that I run into one that cuts to the chase so well. It expresses the great need we all have, that moment we realize that the charade has to end, and we find ourselves before the Lord in honest confession of the condition of our hearts. I think it will be well worth a listen:

*Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage” Inpop Albums, 2012

 

I’ve thought of the lyrics many times. Here they are with my commentary, and questions that I have pondered:

Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols

How am I in the center of my world?

What is the measure I must take to crush the idols in my life?

Do I dare to take that measure?

Jerk the pews and all the decorations, too
Until the congregation’s few, then have revival
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
Until you’re broken for your sins, you can’t be social
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful

It’s not about the beauty of our worship centers, is it?

Is there ever a time when it’s more beneficial to retreat, alone?

When we meet together, is it just about the hellos, and the niceties of polite greetings?

Are church gatherings and programs about true fellowship or do they serve as just another distraction?

 Is it right to ignore the desperation we should have to meet with God, in this day and age?

 What brings revival?

What will God impress upon me if I pray earnestly, if I am still enough to sit in silence?

 Are you encouraged of your reward for sober-minded, serious reflection?

‘Cause you can sing all you want to
Yes, you can sing all you want to
You can sing all you want to
And still get it wrong; worship is more than a song

What is true worship before God?

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper

He said, “Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalm 46:10)

Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open

How do we hide from the Lord?

Where is our sense of urgency in prayer?

Are we as aware of our spiritual condition as we think we are?

What will we see if we are honest before Him?

What is the result of confession and repentance of sin?
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken
I don’t know where you are in your faith.

 Is there something you haven’t trusted to the Lord?

Have you read His word?

Do you dare to put apply it to your life?

Do you believe at all?

If not, have you ever cried out to God to make Himself known to you? I beg of you, Read His word, and with an honest heart of faith, confess your sin and repent. I dare you to then walk in faith, study it earnestly, and see if it does not ring true.

I dare you, and I dare myself.

********

King David cried out, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

 

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: AN OPEN LETTER TO CHRISTIANS

Same Sex marriageYesterday the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. Going forward, this country will now recognize marriage as man and woman, man and man, woman and woman.

“Love Won”, they say.

The path of least resistance is to remain quiet if you don’t agree, or else be accused of bigotry and hatred.

But what do we say in response to a ruling that is a mockery of God’s laws, a ruling that many believe will tear away at the moral fabric of this country?

I submit to you today that it isn’t ultimately about speaking our minds or having a right to do so. I believe at the heart of the stereotyping and name-calling towards Christians is a rebellion against God, but it is also a backlash on Christians that perpetuate that image by the way they relate to those who have different beliefs.

We are told to speak the truth in love, which is a loaded statement. It’s a balance of conviction and compassion that can only be practiced through God’s work in our own hearts.  My simple perspective is to look to Christ, to Him as our example. When He came upon a woman about to be stoned for committing adultery, (and just for clarity, homosexuality is just as much of a sin, Romans 1:26). What was His reaction?

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”(John 8:1-11)

It’s important to remember that Jesus approached this woman with kindness and genuine love, yet He never shied away from speaking the truth. Notice what He said next:  He said go and sin no more. It was not ok that she committed adultery. It was not ok if she continued in her sin.

Jesus was in balance. His love for this sinner wasn’t just with words, it was demonstrated.  Yet He was bold to speak the truth. I see two extremes among Christians: If we say we love, but don’t do anything to speak the truth, we can’t win anyone to salvation. There is also no salvation with a display of condemnation to someone else. It only breeds hate.Yes, I believe we as Christians must be involved politically. I will say this strongly.

There is no doubt that the government is a God-given tool to keep society from going completely berserk, and we must fight to put the right people in office. Yet spiritual change will not ultimately come as something pressing upon the masses. It begins in the heart, in preaching and sharing the Gospel. It begins from the inside out, as it does with all of us.

Then love will truly win.

***********

I’m challenged to examine my heart first. We must ask ourselves:

  • How do we really view those who don’t know the truth? Do we genuinely love them as human beings?
  • What is the motivation of a condemning spirit? Is it Fear? Anger? Our own guilt?
  • Are you and I prepared for the testing of our faith ahead? What should we be doing right now to understand the challenges ahead?

 

50 THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN 50 YEARS

50 years 50 lessonsOk, so this will be the last time I’ll even hint that I just turned 50, but I just wanted to share a list of what I’ve learned over the years…not perfectly or completely, but God is good, and He has shown me these principles and virtues in one way or another along the way. (Apparently admitting that I’m middle aged is not one of them!)

50 things I learned in 50 years

  1. God’s mercy is new every day.
  2. Never pass up a good opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
  3. There’s a good reason for hardships, even if we don’t see it right away.
  4. Of relationships: Humility and forgiveness go a long way.
  5. Listen to the still, small voice inside you. It’s called your conscience.
  6. We are just here for a little while…Time is fleeting. Use it for eternal purpose.
  7. You can tell a lot about someone by who they say is their hero
  8. You may not think God is listening, but you always find out that He is.
  9. Life is not fair or easy
  10. Being in God’s will is peaceful and progressive
  11. God can change your plans at any time
  12. Peace is often a good measure of answered prayer
  13. Looking back, I can see how God has worked in my life to steer me towards His will
  14. Time alone with God is rich
  15. Everything, even our mistakes work together for the good
  16. Work as unto the Lord
  17. You can make a living, but it isn’t your life
  18. God uses a few people to do the greatest things
  19. Joy in the Lord is the fullest kind of joy
  20. I don’t deserve God’s grace but He gives it anyway
  21. Don’t expect from others what only God can give
  22. Finish a job you started
  23. God shows his mercy in the uneventful ways
  24. Slow down
  25. Creativity is a gift from God
  26. Those you never expect to show up will show up
  27. Say you’re sorry
  28. Solitude is underrated
  29. There’s nothing like discovering wisdom in God’s word
  30. God’s discipline tells us that we are His
  31. The less time I have to work with, the more I get done
  32. I’m not as righteous as I think I am
  33. God is kinder than I think He is
  34. I think I can do it on my own until I can’t
  35. Think carefully of the motives of anything done in the name of happiness
  36. Health is taken for granted until it’s lost
  37. When you are angry, pray before act. The outcome will be different.
  38. It’s better to woo and persuade in kindness than force with anger.
  39. Ask the right questions.
  40. If you look for an opportunity to share your faith, God will give it
  41. Sometimes the consequences are waived
  42. Humility defuses envy
  43. God has not called me to fit in
  44. Never stop doing your best just because someone didn’t give you credit
  45. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the willingness to listen
  46. Take mental snapshots. They are moments in time that won’t ever go away.
  47. I have less time than I thought
  48. I shouldn’t have made it this far
  49. I wish I’d known then what I know now
  50. I have a lot more to learn

*****************************

There’s a story or two that I could share about each one, but then who doesn’t have their own list?

We’ve all had our battles and the scars to show for them, but with each we carry away the priceless bounty of new faith and insight we may not have gained any other way. Am I right?

As believers, I realize that He also teaches in His patience and kindness, in answered prayer that we don’t deserve, and in His rich fellowship as we walk in obedience with Him. Most of all, He teaches us clearly in His Word, which we can all look to in order to address any life circumstance and know Him more deeply.

As long as we live and breathe, we know that God isn’t finished with us yet. He has barely started with me, a work in progress.

What are some of your hard-learned lessons?

Can you relate to any I’ve listed?

How did you come to learn them?

What’s your greatest challenge in the Christian life?

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH: EIGHT QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOURSELF CONCERNING CHURCH FAVORITISM

I recently noticed a stone displayed on a coworker’s desk. it was a geode, which is a type of sedimentary or volcanic rock, usually rounded in shape:

Rocks - box

It brought back a long-forgotten memory of the first time I saw  this type of rock. It was many years ago in grade school, when a guest brought in a bag of them to show the class. He downplayed it pretty well. He took one out, saying, “What an ordinary rock. It’s grainy, rough, kinda like cement…who wants one?”

We went along with his assessment.

“Not me!”

“You sure you don’t want one? Don’t you think they’re pretty?”

“No way!”

Laughter ensued.

“Ok,” he said, “guess I’ll have to keep them all”.

With that, he began to cut one with a saw, saying he was just curious what it looked like on the inside.

Of course, you may know where this is going. A geode is a type of rock that has a hollow internal crevice lined with minerals. They are formed when air bubbles are trapped in volcanic rock. When rain falls on the bubble, the chemicals inside the volcanic rock are released, forming crystals inside the rock.

The results are beautiful:

Rock - small purple Rock - small gray Rock - large purple

 

What an unexpected contrast! Needless to say, we all wanted one after that.

Why am I sharing a children’s lesson? I believe it’s a message we have to keep learning, whether we’re 8 or 78 years old:

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

We see it every day in this world. People create a ranking system based on superficial criteria such as beauty, status, wardrobe, or prestige. I believe is all over our society due to evil pride, a constant desire to boost ourselves by looking down at others, not taking the time to see what may be on the inside.

It’s not easy to admit, but let’s face it. We see it in the church as well.

Yes, we as believers have the Spirit of God within us, and therefore we have the capacity to reflect God’s complete impartiality.

2 Chronicles 19:7 says, “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons.”

In other words, God does not show favoritism.

Yet without obedience to Him, we behave no better than anyone else. We aren’t showing God’s character when we seek out others based on what we see on the outside.

Apparently this was an issue in the early church as well. James (thought to be the brother of Christ) writes directly to the issue in his epistle:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? (James 2:1-4)

If we are one body in Christ, shouldn’t we reflect His character?

Here are a list of questions we must ask of our church, but more importantly, to honestly ask of ourselves:

  1. Do we (I) divide ourselves (myself) socially based on social status?
  2. Is my church diverse when it comes to race and background? Do I make a point to befriend members from all walks of life?
  3. Do we (I) sit myself apart from the outcast at the end of the pew?
  4. Who do we (I) talk to at the end of a service?
  5. Are there distinct cliques in my church? Am I a part of them?
  6. Does my church resemble a fashion show more than a church gathering at times? Who am I dressing for when I go to church?
  7. Do I or church leadership favor the popular over the not-so-popular for positions of service?
  8. Do the sermons at my church (more than anything else) focus on status and riches as indicators of God’s blessing? Do I often believe that favor is measured by wealth?

Friend, God is not interested in your beauty, your wardrobe, or your bank account, no matter how little or much you possess.  I believe there will come a day when the body of Christ will truly be united, whether it is through sanctification and/or necessity. May it be sooner rather than later.

“….man looks at the outside, yet God looks at the heart” (1 Samuel  16:7)

 

 

 

ON THE RECENT DUGGAR CASE

Duggars

Like many “19 Kids and Counting” viewers, I’m saddened to hear of Josh Duggar’s confession of sexual molestation of 5 girls, 4 of which were his own sisters. Over the weekend, I’ve read many articles and comments that either sweep it under the rug by saying “forgive, it was a mistake”, to downright glee at his downfall. Both are disturbing to me because they represent reactions written from emotion and bias. Yet, with as much talk about this right now, I can’t be silent not to address this issue. It’s a very public, real-life  circumstance that has generated a windstorm of assumptions. It’s brought up questions concerning forgiveness and accountability, honesty and moral dilemma. How do you and I, as Christians response to such a crime committed by a professing brother in Christ? This story seems to beg the question. I’m writing today in hopes to offer a clear-headed, balanced response.

I don’t know Josh Duggar nor anyone in this family. I don’t know all the details and I never will. I can’t read anyone’s heart or mind. What I have pondered are some general thoughts and principles I believe are to be considered:

  • First and foremost, Josh Duggar committed a horrific crime. It was committed deliberately and repetitively. You cannot shrug it off simply by saying “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Are you saying that because he professes to be a Christian? Would you say that about anyone in his shoes? He wasn’t a “child” at the time and knew exactly what he was doing, and was NOT just a “mistake”. For that, he needed (or still needs) extensive help, and needless to say, a punishment worthy of the crime. Accountability and Forgiveness are not the same thing. 
  • Josh Duggar is a sinner. He possesses the same origin of sin as any other child molester, any murderer, any thief. Let me ask you this—(because I see it in myself also) —have you ever noticed that our jails are full of such criminals that most Christians never evangelized, nor visit with the gospel? Yet when, and if, they show an interest in God are suddenly extended a hand of fellowship or a pat on the back? They are suddenly humanized because they have stepped over on our terms. Why aren’t we seeing the same potential of repentance in them as we think we see in Josh Duggar? Why is there such a double standard? 
  • Don’t trust appearances. Even the most pristine family may not always be what they seem. Now, I admire what the family and their show stood for; I share their values and I definitely rooted for their success and witness in the middle of a world waiting for them to fall. Yet, even before this came to light, I never thought it was wise to publicly hold anyone up on a pedestal.  On a large or small scale, men will fail us. Whether they are reality show stars, Sunday school teachers, or family. I’m not saying to throw trust out the window, but that our standard and confidence is ultimately only One, and that is Jesus Christ. 
  • I’m grieved that this very public incident has hurt the body of Christ as a whole. By being so much in the public eye, this family was under a microscope. As such, their credibility is under question. I support TLC’s decision to take them off the air, at least until some restoration or restitution can be made. I cannot speculate on this point, but if the parents knew the history with Josh, I question the wisdom of the decision to have a show, knowing the damage this revelation would do in the long run. 
  • I believe in restoration of the sinner. I believe that if Josh Duggar is truly repentant, if he has truly mourned over his sin, if he has dealt with it in his heart and before his victims, that God has forgiven him. I believe that about anyone in his shoes. Does that mean that just because someone is repentant that there are no consequences? No. Otherwise, we might as well let everyone, even those who are truly repentant out of jail. Additionally, even if this repentance has already taken place, as someone in the limelight, he has a responsibility to his viewers to prove that repentance. I don’t know what that looks like, God does. 
  • Our job is to pray…pray and understand that all things work together for the good for the Christian. (Romans 8:28). Pray that their eyes would be open to any false doctrine or wrong teaching, and any dysfunction in the family would be corrected if there are any. Pray for the victims, that they have healed and will heal from this present crisis. I think it’s wishful and probably unlikely that all is well across the board, but who knows – maybe God will choose the right means of restoration to create an honest and even more transparent witness for Him. Otherwise, pray that He would use this in the individuals that were more directly effected in ways that we will never know.

A DOSE OF AMAZING!

 

moon cropped

Dear Friends,

I took this shot of the moon a couple of weeks ago, as seen through a telescope over Burnet, Texas, in  the heart of the Texas Hill Country. It’s the same moon I barely noticed back home in the urban hot mess of Houston, where the streetlights wash out the sky, and I’m usually too preoccupied to look up anyway. Now, as it hung over “God’s turf” it seemed to be coming out of the shadows and into the spotlight, a generous, beaming presence. I had to capture the view at that moment.

The Universe is amazing. I got a glimpse of the Orion Nebula (a cloud of gas and dust just below the constellation of Orion’s Belt), the birthplace of a thousand stars. Venus was so close that it overshadowed even the  brightest star on the horizon…but it was Jupiter that really blew me away. Looking at it with the naked eye, it looked like a star. However, through a telescope it was a perfect white globe, trailed by four very distinct moons, all lined up in a row. This isn’t my pic, but very close to what I saw:

Jupiter-moons-in-scope

Jupiter and its four brightest moons seen in a small telescope. Credit: Bob King

I’ve been obsessed with all things Space-y ever since.

For instance, did you know that:

A lot of what I tried to comprehend was pretty much over my head (no pun intended): The mathematical calculations of why the speed of light is always constant…The physics of interplanetary gravitational pull…The chemistry of why only a teaspoon of imploded star matter will weigh over a ton.

I’ll leave that to all of you science wizards, but I will say this…the debate between intelligent design and science comes down to origin. Christianity doesn’t reject science, we just acknowledge the One who invented it. In fact, I really don’t think that science is that much at odds with what God has revealed in His word.  I checked out what the Bible says on creation and found that science has determined what God’s Word already confirmed long ago:

On the number of stars:

 “As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured…”

(Jeremiah 33:22)

On the shape of the Earth:

“He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers…” (Isaiah 40:22)

On the free float of Earth in space:

“He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing”. (Job 26:7)

On creation made of invisible elements:

“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible”.(Hebrews 11:3)

On the expanding Universe:

“…He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (Isaiah 40:22)

The next day I woke up to a stunning and cloudless day. The Hill Country is gorgeous this time of year. The bluebonnets cover the ground like a purple carpet, and the breeze is just enough to cut through the heat. There’s a certain peace in walking through a meadow — to the tune no louder than the chirping of the birds.

IMG_0625

 IMG_0621 - Copy

IMG_0628

It’s mind-boggling to think that we are on a hanging globe, spinning like a top in this dynamic, inhabitable cosmos when our immediate surroundings can seem so serene. Yet here we are, sustained and cocooned in our little world. It seems we are oblivious in our day-to-day lives to this far greater reality. Heck, I hardly noticed the moon in the city! It’s only when we stop long enough to realize that our God is never oblivious of us that we are truly amazed.

Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

Now that’s out of this world.