His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


John the Baptist – another lesson in humility

John went from being the main attraction, to being left in the dust. He went from having swarms of people flocking to him, listening intently to his message, and being baptized by him; to being almost forgotten in prison. How do you think he felt about this dramatic turn of events? Here’s how…

“I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Luke 3:16)

“He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Jesus must become greater; John must become less. Is this part of our prideful tendency, to seek greater attention for others?

We should all follow John’s example. It’s not about us; we should point the way to Jesus. That takes humility, but what a glorious humility it is.

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More Lessons About Ego

Jesus Christ sure understood the human condition. He knows us for what we really are; all the warts and blemishes have not gone unnoticed. Just read what He taught and you will see this for yourself. He seemed to focus His teaching on those areas we humans have the most trouble with. The more we struggle with it, the more Jesus taught about it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote yesterday (see it here). I remembered a couple of Jesus’ lessons that seem to apply to yesterday’s topic; our frequent inability to read the Bible objectively, because our pride and ego get in the way. Jesus talked a lot about this, but not always in these terms. Yet His lessons often boiled down to the problem of our ego; the problem of our “self” getting in the way. Please bear with me as I ramble on…

Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Deny your “self”; that’s one of Jesus’ lessons for us. It’s not an easy thing to do, to be sure. And I don’t believe we are expected to do this on our own (I know I can’t) – I believe God will do the hard work, if we only have the desire to deny ourselves. But what does it mean to deny your “self” if not to let go of your ego, let go of your “self” centeredness, and grab hold of humility.

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

And another thought: we are shaped by our upbringing and life experiences. Likewise, our worldview, how we look at the things that go on around us, is equally shaped by our past. Yet this past is often filled with ego-centered events; be it either our ego or the ego’s of those around us. Just look at the baby-boomer generation, of which I belong: we have been called the “me generation”. Is that an image of self-centeredness or what? The society in which we live helps mold us into the selfish individuals we have become. If you can look at yourself objectively (not easy for some of us self-centered people, of which I am definitely one), you will see that this is true.

So maybe as much by genetics as by our life experiences, we have been born into a self-centered life. Could this be why Jesus calls us to be reborn (lesson #2 for today)? “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3)

For me, to be born again is to deny my “self”, in effect putting my “self” to death; and then becoming a new person – a humble, other-centered person.

Referring back to yesterday’s topic: next time you read the Bible, if you have not done this before, try to consciously put your “self” in the background, and read with a humble, open heart. You just might see things that you’ve never seen before.


How do you read the Bible?

It’s so hard to be objective. As much as I try to look at something without a preconceived notion, I still end up having some kind of bias. It works like this: we first get an idea or belief in our heads, and then look for evidence to prove our belief is correct.

This is not the scientific method of objectivity. In science the method is to first come up with a theory and then by way of experiments and research, objectively look at the evidence to see what it tells you about your theory; finally drawing conclusions from the evidence, not from the original theory itself. The objective scientific method is NOT coming up with a theory and then looking for specific evidence that proves your theory; that would be coming to a conclusion before looking at the evidence.

Yet we all do this – it’s not unique to scientists. For example, I have a friend at work who is a vegetarian. He told me that he was in the process of searching through the Bible, looking for passages that support his theory that God calls us all to be vegetarians. An apparently harmless example, yet it illustrates a dangerous approach to reading the Bible.

I’m not immune. I recently went on a similar quest of my own. It pains me to believe that many people who I dearly love are doomed to eternity in hell, because of their lack of faith. So I came up with a theory, which goes like this: what if hell is not the end? What if hell is more of a refining process, where impurities are finally and totally burned off? Then once clean, the formerly lost soul can come to heaven? Yet as much as I loved the idea, I could not find supporting evidence in the Bible. But I looked… long and hard. Fortunately for me, I was objective enough to admit that the evidence I longed for was not to be found. I reluctantly accepted the truth.

Not everyone is able to be so objective. For example, consider the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who believe and loudly preach that God hates America, and “fags”, and all kinds of other people who they do not even know. And they believe that the Bible supports them.

In trying to be objective myself, and realizing that I can definitely be wrong in my thinking, I went on a search of my own, looking for the evidence that is claimed by those at the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). This is why I haven’t written in this blog for a while; I’ve been busy pouring through my Bible.

Well, as you may already know, I could not find the evidence – I guess I just don’t read the Bible like those at the WBC. However I found something other than evidence; I found some understanding. I feel I clearly understand why people come to their own conclusions about what God has to say, and about whom God may hate, without objectively looking at the evidence. In reading the Bible, many people do so not with their eyes and ears open, but with a mind closed by ego, arrogance, pride.

Out of their arrogance and pride, people tend to want to make God into their image. Hate-filled people will want to make a hate-filled God. People who believe homosexuality is not a sin, will want to make a God who believes as they do. Some are more blatant than others, but we are all susceptible to this temptation of effectively placing ourselves above God.

What might Jesus say about succumbing to this temptation? As Paul told the Corinthians: “Do not go beyond what is written.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) And as Jesus said to Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:33)


Does God Hate You?

…If you’re the “wrong” sexual orientation, He does – according to some very outspoken individuals. Unfortunately for my parents, they recently encountered a group of people who believe that “God hates fags,” as their picket signs proclaimed.

While heading to our house for dinner last weekend, my parents came across a scattered group of bicyclists, strung out over about a half mile of roadway. When rounding a corner, those on the bicycles as well as my parents in their car, were confronted by a gang of protestors, with picket signs that read, “God Hates You!” and “God Hates Fags!”, and other such slogans of hate.

Needless to say, my parents were rather upset by the whole thing. When they arrived for dinner, the first thing my step-father asked was, “Where’s the vodka?” (not really – I just felt like injecting some humor).

So what is the truth behind the claim that God hates homosexuals? If you know anything about God, you probably already know the answer. And by that it’s clear that the protestors, who pretend to know the mind of God, really know nothing about Him.

The truth is found in Jesus’ own words…

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

Love your enemies; be kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Jesus is only calling us to live as He lived, to behave as He behaved, to love as He loved. Does it look like God hates anyone? I don’t think God considered homosexuals His enemy, though He may consider them wicked since I believe the bible tells me that all who sin are considered wicked. So at the very least, Jesus is asking me to be kind to homosexuals.

It’s too bad that those who profess to know the mind of God apparently don’t take the time to read His word. If you’re one of those who are a victim of hate, by either giving or receiving hate, then find freedom from your hate by embracing the truth of Jesus Christ.

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The answer’s not always yes

Please forgive me for ignoring something very important in the past three posts. I would like to thank seekhispurpose for pointing it out. In my enthusiasm to illustrate a power in prayer that I believe comes from praying with certainty and expectation, I ignored the fact that with our prayers, the answer is not always yes.

God doesn’t necessarily give us everything we ask for, no matter how strong our faith. When I look back at what I’ve written, I think I wrote those three posts for me as much as for anyone else. My faith in prayer feels weak sometimes. I feel that if I prayed with more faith in God’s love, I might experience more of His grace, in the form of answered prayers. Praying with doubts, as I sometimes do, is not a very good way to pray. I often feel like the father who responded to Jesus by saying something like, “Lord, I believe. Please help me in my unbelief.”

Yet even in our strongest moments of faith and belief, sometimes God says no. I don’t pretend to understand why God occasionally turns down our requests. Yet I do believe that His ways are as far above my ways, as heaven is above the earth.

I’m reminded of a time when I was helping with our church’s youth group. A close friend of many of the teenagers in our group had just died. Only a couple of days after his death, we got together for our regular weekly meeting. We didn’t start with a rowdy game, like we normally would have. Instead, we talked and listened and sat in silence.

One of the leaders told the kids something that has stuck with me. In comparing our relationship with God to a child’s relationship with their parent, he said something like this: “When you were a little child, like around 3 or 4 years old, did you always understand why your parents did the things they did? Now looking back, do you feel you understand more today? Do you think as you grow to become an adult yourself, you will understand your parents past actions even more?” After pausing, he concluded, “It’s like that with God. We are now like very little children to God. There is no way we can understand why He does certain things, or why He allows certain things to happen. Yet someday, maybe not until we are in heaven, we may understand.”

When the answer is no, I just try to accept the fact that I’m too little to understand God’s ways. It’s sometimes painful, like with a little child who is not able to have their way, but I believe I will be better for it, in the end.


Win or Lose – It’s up to You

This is a story of two teenage girls. They lived in different parts of the country and had no way of knowing each other, yet they had this in common: they were both about to celebrate their 18th birthday. And they had another thing in common; they both had loving parents who wanted to help them celebrate their birthdays in a particular and coincidentally identical manner.

One day Jenna’s parents came to her and asked what she would like most for her birthday. Jenna knew the generosity of her parents, and so she excitedly told them that more than anything, she wanted her own car. It was then no surprise to her when they smiled and said, “Let’s go shopping for one.” Jenna spent the next several weeks leading up to her birthday dreaming about her new car. She knew exactly which car she was getting; they picked it out that very first day they went shopping. Yet the deal was she had to wait until her birthday before she could actually have it. She later reflected that the delay was kind of fun, in that it was a time filled with excited anticipation. She so enjoyed visualizing herself driving her car around town.

Becky, like Jenna, was offered a new car by her parents, for her birthday gift. Yet Becky’s response was totally different. Becky was not an unusual teenage girl, in that she could sometimes exhibit interesting and challenging moods. And on the day her loving parents offered her a brand new car for her birthday, Becky responded with disbelief, rather than joy and excitement. In fact, Becky told her parents directly that she just didn’t believe they would actually give her such an expensive gift. Becky’s parents had previously been excited about how Becky might respond, but now they were crushed and very disappointed. In the end, they decided not to give Becky the car. After all, since she really didn’t believe, why bother. Becky never saw the irony in the fact that she received exactly what she expected to receive – nothing.

What does this story have to do with the types of things I typically talk about on this blog? If you’ve read the past couple of posts, “Anything you want – just ask” and “Is God Santa Claus?“, you’ll see the connection.

I believe that Becky is a representation of most of us, in how we pray to God. Jesus told us to just believe that God will give us what we ask for, and it will be ours. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it just seems too hard to believe that God would be so generous. We receive exactly what we expect to receive – nothing.

Our Father God is not unlike the two sets of parents in today’s story. He loves us and he wants to give us what we ask for. Yet He’s wiser than most parents. He will only give us what is good for us, what will help us grow and find true joy. So don’t expect God to give you a car that may offer you temporary happiness but no lasting joy. But PLEASE ask God for what you desire most, and know with certainty that as your most loving parent, He wants to give it to you, and He WILL give it to you, if you truly believe.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)