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)


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Bringing people to Jesus – by throwing a bible into their face

Julie is a friend who has a passion for “bringing people to Jesus.” Her passion comes from a sincere conviction that God is calling her to this task. Her energy and dedication also come from a heart-felt concern for anyone she knows who does not also know Jesus. Her motivation is honest and completely centered on the well-being of the other person. There is no selfishness or condemnation in any of Julie’s efforts to introduce someone to the love of Jesus. She lives in near-poverty just so she can be close to the people she feels called to save.

Many people believe that we Christians are responsible for “bringing people to Jesus.” After all, Jesus Himself told us to: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19)

By her desire to bring people to Jesus and the salvation He offers, my friend Julie does tend to take her calling to extremes however. Packed with emotion, concern, zeal and a real sense of urgency, she tends to push pretty hard on her prospective converts. And many times I fear she pushes them right out the door.

Do you wonder; is Julie an example of what Jesus really meant when He instructed us to make disciples of everyone? Or is the truth somewhere else? I believe that it’s not my job to “bring people to Jesus;” I believe its Gods intention to do the hard work of actually bringing someone to His Son. As Jesus said…

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-45)

He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” (John 6:65)

I believe the truth is that we are just to be a witness, to testify to what we know:

“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,” (Matthew 24:14)

In a complex court trial, it’s rarely the testimony of just one witness that sways the jury; it’s the testimony of all the witnesses, who were paraded past the jury by a skilled attorney. In our efforts to evangelize and help “bring someone to Jesus,” we need to realize that we are just one in a potentially long line of witnesses. And God is the skilled attorney, bringing forward the right witness at just the right time. It’s God who does the hard work of bringing the “jury” to the desired conclusion.

If our efforts to help bring people to God end up pushing them away, we need to look at our motivation and methods. Compared to my friend Julie, my methods are very passive. Outside of this blog site, I’m not very outspoken when it comes to talking about the salvation of others. I never hesitate to divulge my true faith, but I try not to push my faith upon others. I like to subscribe to the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Though I like to change it a bit to, “Preach the Gospel at all times, using words only when absolutely necessary.”

I wonder if it was that kind of wordless evangelism that Jesus had in mind when He said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.(John 13:34-35)

While Julie’s motivation is based on humility and a sincere concern for others, I’ve seen other evangelists whose motivation appears to come from a different source. I’ve met many who sincerely believe they are fully qualified to be both witness and attorney; to take someone and lead them all the way from their old life, to a new life with Jesus. They believe they have the wisdom, knowledge, power and perseverance to do the whole job. Where does this belief come from?

As is the root cause of most of our problems, here again is the ego. It’s our ego and hunger for pride that draws us to the belief that we are qualified to do the hard work. After all, if all we do is the easy work, the work of just telling the truth, and letting God do the hard work of bringing others to salvation; then where is the credit for us? As a witness we get no credit, since all the credit goes to God, the attorney.

But that’s just it! Credit is not what it’s all about. A sense of accomplishment is not what we should be after. We shouldn’t witness for Jesus out of a desire for a pat on the back. We should witness out of our love for Him. All the credit for anything good that happens in our lives should go to God.

So as I’ve said before, humility is the secret. If you really want to be a servant for God, helping bring others to Jesus, then cultivate your humility first. And leave all the hard work for God. As D.L. Moody once said, “There is no better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.”


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Misrepresenting Jesus

The outcome of the vote on California Proposition 8 will determine if same-sex marriages will still be considered legal. Today’s newspaper contained a brief article which concluded with the following quote:

“Everybody understands that Jesus, in his own culture, was notorious and persecuted for consorting with outcasts,” said the Rev. Peter Laarman, a United Church of Christ minister who opposes the gay marriage ban. “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.”

First of all, I’m not totally sure which part of scripture Mr. Laarman is referring to. My guess is that he may have been alluding to communion, or maybe it was the following: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)

I do agree with the statement, “When Jesus said all are welcome at the table, I think he really meant all.” What I disagree with is the implied meaning. Mr. Laarman is apparently implying that Jesus meant that same-sex couples are invited to get married. I really don’t know how he could connect the two. There is no evidence of this anywhere in the bible.

The truth in what Jesus said is this: All are welcome to the salvation He has offered us. None are excluded. The only requirement is that we have faith in God and what He has told us, and that we repent of our sins. Therefore, all sinners are welcome. That means I’m welcome, and it means homosexuals are welcome. We just need to believe and have the desire to change our sinful ways.

And this brings me to my second concern for the day: this tendency of so many “Christians” to reshape the meaning of what is recorded in the bible to support their own personal agenda. In effect, they are putting their own words in Gods mouth, or twisting what God has said and changing the true meaning! Think about that for a moment. It’s called spin. Do we really want to play that game with God?

What motivates people to substitute their “truth” for God’s truth? I believe the answer is ego. Pride gives people the audacity to think that they know better than God. After all, isn’t that what’s going on when someone changes the meaning of God’s truth? We all need the humility to accept God’s word as it stands, without any modifications. And it takes humility, especially when our personal feelings are in conflict with what God has stated. Instead of fighting the conflict and trying to eliminate it by changing God’s truth, we just need to humbly accept the conflict, and pray for help in dealing with it.

I fear for Mr. Laarman. He may find himself in front of Jesus some day, with Jesus saying, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoer.” (Matthew 7:23)


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Another story of “Christian” ego

“State social workers were interviewing children who live at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries just south of Texarkana.” The newspaper article mentioned nothing about actual evidence of any kind of abuse. What caught my attention in this article was the name of the compound being raided; the “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.”

If I knew nothing about Christianity, I would be tempted to conclude, from the name of the ministry, that Christianity is all about drawing attention to yourself. The “Tony Alamo Christian Ministries;” – note whose name comes first.

Now I know nothing about Mr. Alamo. There’s not much information in the article attesting to his Christian faith; that is, it’s hard to tell what kind of a Christian he is. Yet the one statement I’ve quoted appears to tell me a lot. If I were to make an observation based on first impressions, I would say that Mr. Alamo has a sizeable ego, and that “his” ministry is more about him than about Jesus Christ. Now I realize I could be totally wrong here, since I know almost nothing about the daily workings of this ministry. But it’s hard for me to ignore the impact of the name.

I wonder what Jesus’ first impression might be, when observing the “Tony Alamo Christian Ministry.” Might He remind us of what John the Baptist said (see this post about John’s humility)…

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

As Jesus himself said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

I leave with this message to Mr. Alamo: Sir, I know nothing about who you are or where your heart is, other than by what you have named your ministry. Yet from that, I believe you have set yourself ahead of Jesus. Please prayerfully consider your heart and your motives, and your relationship with Jesus. And know this, those who humble themselves on earth, will be exalted in heaven. It’s the truth and a promise you can count on.


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Jesus, do you really mean it?

I’ve had some interesting comments to a short post that showed up on this blog back in May (Do not call anyone on earth “father”). One comment claimed that Jesus did not mean this instruction to be taken literally, and that I was therefore just Catholic-bashing. Well, I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult for me to resist the temptation to “bash” certain Christian denominations. It just seems to me that many of them have wandered too far from the truth. However, in all my posts I try to avoid “bashing” anyone, and instead, just focus on the “truth.” Yet I know I’m not always successful.

Anyway, today I would like to take a look at this concept of whether or not Jesus intends for us to take certain things He said as literal instruction. And if we are not supposed to take something as literal, what is the point Jesus is trying to get across to us? I’ll offer up two examples of scripture, as points of discussion.

The first scripture comes from the 18th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus proclaims:

“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:7-9)

Does Jesus really mean this? Should I gouge out my eye because I gazed lustfully at someone who just walked by outside? And if I did, would my lack of eyesight really stop my lustful ways? I can pretty much guarantee you that lust could still enter my heart, with something as simple as a casual touch of a hand. I don’t need to see to lust. So was Jesus wrong? Don’t count on it.

It seems clear to me that in this passage of scripture, Jesus did not intend for us to take Him literally, simply because the actions He proposes will not really fix the true root cause of the problem. For the example I’ve given above, the root cause of my lust resides in my heart and in my mind, not in my eyes or even my hands. Okay, am I then supposed to cut out my heart and brain? That doesn’t sound very biblical. The conclusion I come to is that Jesus was illustrating a point, not giving literal instruction.

Maybe we can all be happy that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said (if you choose to agree). Though He did not expect us to take His instruction in Matthew 18:7-9 literally, He did have a point. But my purpose here is not to focus on that right now, but to look further into this idea of literal vs. non-literal meanings. I’ll leave it to you to dwell on the point Jesus made in Matthew chapter 18, if you choose. (you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my post of September 10th)

But now I’d like to go a bit further into Matthew, for the second passage of scripture I wish to look at. This passage is the source of the verse I sited in the “Do not call anyone on earth father” post:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)

First, what does your heart tell you? Is this illustration, or literal instruction? If you still don’t know, then what does your mind tell you? Read it again, and if you like, read the entirety of chapter 23 to gain the full context.

The best answer is the one that comes from your heart. Yet you can help your heart come to the right answer by using your mind. Read the Bible; learn from Jesus how He feels about such things as pride and humility – He’s telling you in verse 12. And with your heart, learn from Jesus why He is telling us to not call anyone on earth “father.”

Please comment and let me know what your heart is telling you.


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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.


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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.


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No more Pastors, No more Priests

Did Jesus really mean what He said? Check it out for yourself in chapter 23 of Matthews’s gospel…

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples (v1):… But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (v8-12)

It looks to me like Jesus was calling us to all be servants and brothers (and sisters) of each other, with none above another. I suspect Jesus knew how a title can be a temptation to our prideful nature. Maybe that’s why He stressed humility in this message.

What kind of model for a church is represented by Jesus’ instructions? Did He have something different in mind than the type of church many of us frequent? What would your church look like without that one person up front every week? I’m very interested in what others think about this topic. Please comment.


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Ego – The Nasty Equalizer

Ego lowers people to the same level. Strange premise, you say? Please bear with me on this one.

What does a sizeable ego do to people? Well for one thing, it makes them think they are right and the other person is wrong, always. But mainly ego makes people blind to both sides of any issue. With ego, all a person can see is their side. Let me give a fictional example of what results from this…

Fred is a Christian who frequently demeans homosexuals. He believes all homosexuals will go to hell, and he doesn’t hesitate to express this opinion. Gail reads Fred’s blog and leaves a comment stating that all Christians are homophobic, insensitive, narrow-minded bigots.

Ironically, Gail has lowered herself to Fred’s level, by making her own narrow-minded, bigoted remark. Now I realize my example is not perfect, since Gail was provoked. But I hope you get my point, which is: Ego causes us to loose perspective and enter any situation seeing only part of the issue. And that gives those with bigger egos a huge disadvantage in that they are missing so much of the truth that resides in any issue. And I believe that without truth, there will be failure.

What does Jesus have to say about egos?

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

Humility is incredibly underrated in our society. And most, if not all, of the worlds problems are because of egos. Do you want to help solve social problems? Then look for the ego in the problem, and humbly keep your ego out of it.


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Unfamiliar Territory

I have recently been venturing into unfamiliar territory; an atheist blog. I followed a link to an interesting looking post on the site. The post was about Jesus and indeed presented an out of the ordinary perspective. So I decided to submit a comment, where I made it clear I am Christian. I didn’t disagree with the assertions of the author; I just made an observation about Jesus’ purpose while on earth. Thus began a thread which has now exceeded 26 comments.

I seemed to become a target for the other readers of the atheist blog. Even though these readers know nothing about me, other than I’m a Christian, some of them proceeded to accuse me of being dishonest, insincere, gullible (they may be right with this one), a lair, and a slippery fellow.

My initial urge was to lash back at them. It would have been easy, since as it seemed to me, their arguments, statements and claims were illogical, and full of holes. But thanks to Jesus and His presence in my life, I resisted the temptation. I also found help in a new little phase I came across on another blog: What Would Jesus Have Me Do? (find it here)

The comment thread then became a learning experience for me; a lesson in patience, humility, and anger management. And I learned a lot about myself. For example…

The other people on the comment thread, who were so tempting me to verbally explode – I was once a lot like them. For about ten years of my life, I was an atheist, though I never considered myself a “radical” atheist. Yet I found myself uncomfortable around Christians. I was afraid they might try to convert me. I also held a low opinion of Christians; they appeared weak to me. I basically thought they were all weird.

Consequently, a shock came to me as I read the harsh and uncivil remarks directed at me and my comments; I grew to easily see myself making the same remarks, back when I shared their beliefs. I used to be as insensitive as they appeared to be. In fact, I might have been worse, for all of them seemed rather intelligent by how well they wrote, and they utilized words very cleverly. I believe I would have been clumsier with my words, and therefore harsher still in spewing venom towards my target.

In the course of the comment thread, I frequently went to my bible, looking for guidance, and this is what I found:

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)

I found it actually easy to sincerely care for my enemies, once I realized I had once been one of them. Maybe we cannot always see ourselves in our enemies, but we should be able to find some reason to love and pray for them. And if for no other reason, than do it for yourself; for you will be blessed.

What is the benefit of not fighting back, yet accepting the persecution? What is the benefit of sincerely caring for our enemies? I see two: I know that I felt better and more at peace than I would have if I had lashed out. I also know that I was a better representative for Jesus. One of my prayers throughout the experience was that the readers of the atheist blog would not see in me, an ugly Christian. I wanted them to see Jesus, through me. And I wanted to do it without preaching.

Only God knows how well I held up in the unfamiliar territory. But I know I’m better for the experience. And perhaps God was glorified.


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How Elusive the Truth

It can be staring me right in the face, and I’ll still miss it. It’s only after I find it, that I realize how obvious it was all along (duh).

I’ll give you an example from my engineering career. We were having lots of test failures, and I was in charge of finding the cause. With a pre-conceived notion in my head, I went in search of some complex root cause, pouring through all the data I could find. After a couple of days of fruitless labor, my boss came out to the production floor, surveyed the lay of the land for only a couple of minutes, pointed to some circuit boards resting in a holding tray, and dryly declared, “There’s your problem.”

And he was right! Boy did I feel dumb. The truth behind all the failures had been literally staring me in the face for over two days, and I never saw it. I had been looking for some complex problem, yet the truth was that the root cause was oh so simple. I wanted to show my engineering prowess and let people know how smart I was, but the truth didn’t require an engineering degree.

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Here’s another example (this one I think I got right):

I look at the data that surrounds me everyday: flowers, a blade of grass, a bird gliding across the breeze, the air I breath in that keeps me alive, the food I eat that somehow is converted to energy, the huge variety of animals that abound the earth, the human brain that defies explanation, the vastness of the universe and all that is in it, and my list goes on and on.

I marvel at all this data. It baffles and amazes me. And it tells me a truth; for me the truth is that none of this data just happened by chance. There is an intelligence behind all that makes up our existence. The truth is God.

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So, why? Why is it that the truth so often eludes us, yet it may be right in front of us? Why is it we have eyes, yet sometimes cannot see? Why is it we have brains, yet sometimes it seems we do not think? Why is it that sometimes I do not trade in my pre-conceived notions for reality? Why do so many of us ignore the data and instead go with our personal preference?

The answer I offer you today may not be easy to swallow, because it goes against our human nature. The answer is pride. Pride keeps us from going with the easy answer, when our ego is better boosted by the complex answer. Pride keeps us from admitting we are wrong. Pride keeps us from accepting that there is a being more powerful than we are. Pride keeps us in a prison of delusion.

Look at your own life. What has pride and ego done for you lately? Does it make your life easier, or perhaps more stressful, like when things don’t go your way? Open your eyes, try to consider the data again, and decide what you think the truth is. I sure hope you’re right.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV)


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Religion – the Root of all Evil?

“The time has come for people of reason to say: enough is enough. Religious faith discourages independent thought, it’s divisive, and it’s dangerous.” Richard Dawkins made this statement in his 2-part documentary entitled, “The Root of All Evil?”

Apply the power of Google if you want to find out more about Dawkins and his documentary. My intent here is to look further into the question about what is the root of all evil. Is it religion, as Dawkins professes, or something else?

It’s actually quit simple to disprove Dawkins. Just look at the amount of evil conducted NOT in the name of religion. The murderer who knows nothing of God or religion – just one such example breaks down Dawkins’ assertions.

Yet history is indeed full of evil conducted in the name of some religion. It’s happening all around us, everyday. So what does all evil have in common; both religiously motivated evil, and evil of other motivations?

Are you ready? The root of evil is not religion, or secularism, or even money. The root of all evil is pride.

What motivates the parent to abuse their child? A need to exert power, to exercise authority, to appear in control, ego, selfishness… pride. What motivates the dictator to murder his own people? The answer’s the same.

Why does the religious extremist set off a car bomb in a crowded marketplace? Because they are not willing to allow others to be different from them – agree with them or die. I’ve greatly simplified the issue here, for the sake of brevity. But it all boils down to selfish pride; if you don’t agree with me, you must be WRONG. The only difference between the extremists and most of the rest of us is that they assign a much more severe punishment for being “wrong”.

I could go through an exhaustive list of more examples, but I would rather invite you to come up with your own examples of evil acts. Look at each act and find the motivation. If you dig deep enough, in the bottom of that pit of evil you will find pride.

But to give Dawkins another chance, maybe religion is the root of pride? That could be possible. Using my religion of choice, let’s see what God and Jesus have to say about pride:

“To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (Proverbs 8:13)

“Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (Proverbs 13:10)

“The Lord detests all the proud of heart.” (Proverbs 16:5)

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16)

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

Dawkins believes getting rid of religion will get rid of evil. What do you believe? Be careful not to let pride, selfishness, or arrogance motivate your answer.


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The Pope – Only a Man

Should the Pope be worshipped? Should the Pope be bowed down to and praised? During the recent papal visit to the US, I saw images on TV of people dropping to their knees before the Pope and kissing his ring. This is a very familiar image and another of many that we have grown accustomed to. But please think about it; in the eyes of God is this proper behavior?

The tendency to praise someone you are grateful for is certainly natural. The Roman Centurion was very grateful that Peter went out of his way to come see him. “As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence.” (Acts 10:25) Did Peter see this as proper behavior? After all, Peter was one of the pillars of the church. If any living person deserved such praise, it was Peter…

“But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.'” (v.26)

Okay, so maybe Peter was not worthy of having someone fall to their knees before him. But certainly angles, the spiritual agents of God are worthy. As the apostle John prepared to fall on his knees before the angle who had shown him so many things…

“But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!'” (Revelation 22:9)

Is the Pope above Peter? Is the Pope above the angles? Are any of us? We may not have much in common with Peter, but like Peter we are all only men and women, and as the angle told John, only God is to be worshipped.

What might Jesus say to the Pope, or any of us who seek praise?

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.” (Ezekiel 21:26)

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)


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Getting Back to Jesus

In the name of Christianity, don’t we often get involved in issues that actually serve to distract us from what is most important; Jesus Christ? For example, take a look at the three newspaper articles that have been the source of several posts I’ve written over the past couple of weeks. For the last time I will refer to the articles about the Rev. Jane Spahr, who defies the Presbyterian Church and conducts same-sex marriage ceremonies.

To the casual reader of the articles, the Presbyterian Church and Rev. Spahr have no concern for Jesus, God and the Bible. Instead their only concerns are “Presbyterian law” and personal principles. My concerns about this perception can be found in the following collection of past posts:

May 19: “What About God’s Opinion

May 20: “Eternally Condemned – Preaching a False Gospel

May 21: “A Church Divided

May 24: “Dangerous Thinking

May 26: “Whom do You Choose to Obey?

May 29: “Expecting God to Change

In our own personal religious journey’s, who should we look up to? Who should we take advice and guidance from? Pastors? The “church?” Or Jesus, and only Jesus? What advice might Jesus have for us; we who are so frequently distracted by “issues” and misguided notions?

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)

“But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.'” (Acts 4:19)

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14)

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.’” (John 8:31)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)


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Time to Look in the Mirror

I’m going to take a short break from the series I’ve been posting, to look in the mirror. What kind of image of Jesus Christ do I reflect to my friends, family and co-workers? They all know I’m Christian, so I suspect the non-believers in my circle of acquaintances may perceive Christianity as being what they see in me. And it doesn’t always look good.

Take yesterday for example; I experienced a “mild” loss of temper at work yesterday, with my venom aimed at my boss no less. In retrospect, I totally over-reacted. Yet the vision of a Christian living in the peace given by Jesus, the peace beyond human understanding, was no where to be seen.

I spent the evening trying to figure out why I had reacted the way I did. I reluctantly realized that it all boiled down to my selfishness. Things were not going the way I wanted them to, so I got upset. Now what might Jesus have to say to me?

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14b) Feeling embarrassed and a bit angry about my loss of temper indeed humbled me. I felt very low. And I just couldn’t get my mind off of the day’s events. Try as I might to focus of something else, my mind kept wrenching me back to my temper tantrum. I was reminded of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

“But Lord, it’s all so difficult for me. I’ve been striving to find true humility and peace almost all of my Christian life. I know that to keep my eyes firmly fixed upon you is the only true path to peace, yet I find it seemingly impossible in my world of earthly distractions. How can I do it? I just feel so helpless.”

“Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:27)

“But Lord, I can’t help but worry about my lack of control over my behavior. As Paul lamented in chapter 7 of his letter to those in Rome, I know how I want to behave, and I know the image of you that I wish to project to others, but I’m just not able to do it.”

“O you of little faith? So do not worry… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:30, 31, 33)

Thank you dear Jesus.


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A Church Divided

“The Presbyterian Church has been sharply divided over homosexuality, including the question of gay marriages, for more than 30 years.” My series on the controversy around same-sex marriages continues with this quote from the April 26 edition of the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat newspaper. As you may know by now, I am presenting a sequence of posts, focusing on three newspaper articles which told the tale of the latest battle of principles within the Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Jane Spahr being in the center of the turmoil.

That brief extract from the short newspaper article conveys a very clear message; the Presbyterian Church is a church divided against itself. What does this tell us about Christianity and the relationship of fellow believers? To an outsider, Christians must look like a dysfunctional family. Is that the kind of image we really want to portray? Is that the kind of image that will entice others to join the family? Is that the kind of image Jesus wants us to put forth? Read His words and know the truth about how Jesus feels about relationships within His family.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’” (Matthew 12:25)

And Jesus prayed for His family, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) If we call ourselves Christian, yet do not truly love one another, doesn’t that provide outsiders with a false image of Christianity? However, if we indeed love each other, Christianity will stand out as truly different and attractive. Might this be partly why Jesus focused so much on the command of love?

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

Not only Jesus, but His apostles also had a lot to say on the topic:

“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” (James 5:9)

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:6)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Jesus must feel strongly about unity within His church. He provides not only His opinion, but also the solution – humility. A tall order for our egocentric race, yet something to pray about.

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b)


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What About God’s Opinion?

Far too often, I encounter examples of people placing their opinions, principles and beliefs above those of God. In fact, we all are prone to placing ourselves above God, simply by ignoring His direction for our lives and following our own desires, as if we know better than He does about what’s best for our lives. So today, I will begin a 7-part series of posts, focusing on a series of articles recently published in the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat newspaper, about the Rev. Jane Spahr, a retired Presbyterian pastor, who has chosen to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

As stated in the first of the articles, “To the Rev. Jane Spahr, the right of a Presbyterian Church minister to marry same-sex couples is a matter of principle and conscience. To her critics, Spahr … simply broke the law that governs the Presbyterian Church.” In addition, “Spahr … said the case is about the well-being of gays and lesbians, as well as her own principles.” (Press Democrat, 4/22/08 )

We know Spahr’s position, and we know the churches position. On both sides there doesn’t seem to be a care about God’s position. I may be way out of line here, since I’m basing what I write only on what I have seen in three newspaper articles. News articles are not always factual, plus there are likely scores of other quotes that may show a care for God’s opinion. However, my main concern here, as it is in most of what I write about, is what the public sees. For most of us, all we see is what makes it in the paper; and with that said I forge ahead.

What about God’s opinion in the matter? What about Jesus and the principles He taught? What might Jesus have to say about His apparent absence from the discussion? What might Jesus say about God’s opinion not being acknowledged? “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33 )

What might Jesus say about those on both sides of the issue, who seem to speak on their own, without relying on God’s words? “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:17-18 )

Jesus even gave us advice for the principles we should preach; the best advice He could give, by being a living example. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:28 ) “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10) Paul also led by example: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) To Paul, his personal principles were not relevant; all that mattered was God. The humility exhibited by Paul appears to be lacking in the Spahr situation.

Why do people like Rev. Spahr preach something other than what is taught in the Bible? Maybe it’s as John stated in his gospel, “…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:43) Are we called to love praise from others? “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment’.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ) Again, God does not ask us to seek praise for ourselves, but instead to seek God with all who we are.

Jesus’ final words to the Presbyterian Church and Rev. Spahr might be: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33) I invite all who read this to recognize the errors in the thinking of Spahr and the Presbyterian Church, and to look to their own motivations. Do you have in mind the concerns of God, or merely your own concerns?


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Jamie’s Lessons in Humility and Love

As I came out of the restaurant, he was walking by. It wasn’t at first obvious to me that he was homeless, though he pulled on a small cart carrying all his belongings – I can be dense sometimes. He paused and said something about how tough life is. I now feel ashamed that I required him to speak first, but at least I responded, and we were soon talking freely. Jamie likes to talk, quite a lot as I presently discovered.

Jamie is an alcoholic – he told me all about it. When he asked me for money and I declined, he understood my resistance and pointed out that most people like him would spend it on drugs or alcohol anyway. Jamie is 50 years old and he’s been drinking for 38 years.

Jamie is incredibly humble and honest about his situation. He told me about waking up that morning, covered in dirt, leaves, vomit and urine-soaked pants, in some weeds behind a church; the ragged end to a 3-day drinking binge (yet by the time we met, he had been to the mission where he got cleaned up and was given a new set of cloths).

Jamie told me about the mission that feeds the homeless old food that makes him sick and gives him diarrhea. And he told me about how he loves Jesus.

Jamie mentioned he really wanted a radio. I was very resistant at first, but I finally said I’d be willing to buy him one if there was a store near by (thank you Lord for Jamie’s persistence). The idea of giving a homeless person a ride in my nice, clean minivan did not appeal to me, as Jamie asked if I had a car nearby. I finally relented, again, and we loaded Jamie’s cart of belongings into the back of the van.

We talked about Jesus and God. Jamie’s knowledge and memorization of scripture was amazing. I think he knows far more than I about Gods word. And he kept giving God credit for the blessings in his life, like actually waking up alive that morning, after his 3-day binge.

There were other stories Jamie told, where he again praised God for the blessings in his life – like still being alive even though he’s been vomiting up blood lately; and still being alive even after he called a bunch of black youth “nigger” while he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing; or still being alive after getting extremely drunk and waking up to find himself literally hanging over the edge of a short cliff, over a stream. I don’t know if Jamie recognizes that God might be keeping him alive for a reason, but he does recognize that it’s God who’s keeping him alive. And he never hesitates with the words of praise.

Jamie appeared to talk with strength when he talked about Jesus. Jamie was about as low as you can go, but he still had a firm hold on Jesus, and he drew strength from his faith in Jesus.

After buying the radio and batteries, I was beginning to warm up to my task. I was getting much more relaxed around Jamie, almost feeling like buddies. I asked Jamie where he wanted to go next. We then headed toward another mission-type place where Jamie could see some friends, and maybe get some free cloths.

Jamie was much more generous than people like me who actually have stuff to give away. He offered to give me some brand new gloves that someone had given him. This reminded me of what Jesus said about the poor woman who gave her only two pennies to the temple. She who had nothing gave more than the richest. Jamie and I talked about that story.

We sat in the van, parked at the mission, and talked for probably 30 minutes. Jamie told a lot of the same stories over again. Before I left, we prayed together. Jamie asked for forgiveness of his selfishness – he sees it’s selfishness that’s keeping him drinking and on the streets; selfishness that’s keeping him from changing his ways. This man who has nothing sees selfishness as one of his biggest sins. How much more selfish are we?

Jamie helped me be a little less selfish and a little more loving. But I have a long, long way to go to get up to Jamie’s level. Jamie taught me a lot that day. Though he may think that he benefited most from our encounter, I would disagree.

Jamie and I spent an hour and a half together. In looking back at the encounter, there were so many times when I didn’t live up to God’s expectations: I resisted buying him food and the radio; I resisted giving him a ride in the van; I didn’t give him a hug when we parted; I didn’t offer to actively help him to get into some form of rehab; and there’s more if I look.

In looking at my experience with Jamie, what might Jesus say to me? Perhaps, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

… and to Jamie?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5)


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How Would Jesus Pray?

Being on the prayer chain at the church I attend, when someone in the church requests prayer, their request will somehow find its way to me and many others, typically via email. The other day I received an email prayer request asking for prayers for a young woman who was very ill. We were requested to, “Pray for correct diagnosis and treatment as indicated. Healing would be nice.”

“Healing would be nice” – tacked on, almost as an afterthought. It struck me; if Jesus were to email out a prayer request, would he say, “Healing would be nice”? How might Jesus have prayed for this young woman? Jesus who told us:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10, NIV)

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22, NIV)

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:14, NIV)

I began to also wonder about my motives when praying, and my faith. Do I really want this young woman to be healed? I don’t even know her. Do I really believe that God can heal her? Why would I ask for something, if I have doubts in God’s ability or desire to even consider answering my request? Am I taking Jesus at His word? Do I really believe His words I have just typed?

If it were my daughter who were seriously ill, or me, would I be timid in my prayers, just thinking that healing would be nice? I ask you today to consider two things: your faith and your sincerity in prayer. Jesus commanded us to love each other as we love ourselves. Might He also have said to pray for each other as we pray for ourselves?

It has been said that the sincerest expression of love for someone is to give to them what is most precious to us. What is more precious than our time and attention? Love your neighbor as you love yourself; show your love by giving them your time and attention, in prayer to God. Go to God on behalf of your neighbor, praying as if praying for yourself. Whether your “neighbor” is family, friend, or the oppressed in a country near or far away; focus your attention on who you wish to pray for, put yourself in their place, and pray for them as if praying for yourself.

On this May 1st, our national day of prayer, and the first day in the ten days of global prayer leading up to Pentecost, please take stock of how you pray. Do you pray as Jesus instructed? Do you believe what Jesus tells us about prayer? Do you pray for others as if praying for yourself? Ask and you will receive. Be bold.

If you are interested, check out the National Day of Prayer web site at: www.ndptf.org