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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The fall of the Lutheran church

The Lutherans have joined the ranks of the Episcopals, by voting in favor of actively gay clergy. This news hit the media over the weekend, and there’s a good chance you’ve seen it by now. I offer no additions to the news, just some thoughts on the implications.

First of all, homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, the Lutheran church has given approval for openly active sinners to be clergy. If you would like to see the reasoning behind this statement, please check out the following post: “Episcopal church wants a divorce.”

I have friends who will reluctantly agree that homosexuality is a sin, but they are quick to point out that it is a minor sin, with no real victims. Yes, it’s easy to come to that conclusion, but how does God look at it? What is God’s perspective on different sins?

A friend of mine once gave me the following illustration: draw a straight line one mile long, adding hash marks every 10 feet. The beginning of the scale, at zero feet, represents absolute evil; the far end of the scale, at the mile marker, represents absolute good. God is standing at the mile marker – absolutely good.

Take a mass murderer and place him somewhere on the scale, say at about the 10 foot mark. He’s not absolutely evil, since he did something good at one point in his life. Next, have an adulterer take their place on the scale, maybe say at 50 feet. Now how about someone who is very arrogant, selfish and uncompassionate; put them at about 75 feet. And finally, have someone who is actively homosexual stand at about the 100 foot hash mark; they are not nearly as bad as the other sinners on this scale.

The relative location and spacing of these different sinners is not actually important. What is important is how they look from God’s perspective. As God looks back at these sinners, almost a mile away, can He really see much of a different in how far away they are from Him? Now the length of my scale is most likely way off. Instead of one mile distance, God’s goodness probably places Him over a hundred miles from us sinners. To Him, we are all at the same level.

This is what He meant when Jesus said; being angry with your brother is as subject to judgment as murder.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

And if that message is not clear enough, thinking of sinning is the same as the sin…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

From God’s perspective, all sinners are the same. Now do me a favor and visualize an actively arrogant and selfish Lutheran minister. Not very appealing, is he? You know where this is going… Now, visualize an openly active adulterer as a Lutheran minister. Some clergy have been kicked out of the church for less. Next, visualize the openly active mass murderer as a Lutheran minister. Time to run to another church. But finally, visualize the openly active gay person as a Lutheran minister. There is no difference. From God’s perspective, all sinners are the same.

What the Lutheran church has forgotten, and what the Episcopal church has forgotten, is that it’s God’s perspective that counts. But these churches have chosen to ignore God, in favor of the world.


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Episcopal Church wants a divorce…

… from Jesus Christ. “The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to open the door to consecrate more bishops who are openly gay.” So says the opening statement of a New York Times article that was reprinted in my local newspaper on July 15th. This vote took place at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. This is perhaps not big news to you, but I wish to dwell on the implications.

First I would like to comment on several of the more choice statements that appear in the Times article, along with a follow-up article that was published two days later.

To begin, many convention delegates, “… note that the church has hundreds of openly gay laypeople, priests and deacons, and that its democratic decision-making structures are charged with deciding who merits ordination.” So they are saying, the majority rules, but what Jesus says doesn’t matter. I would like to think that Jesus’ vote counts for something.

Choice statement #2: “It’s an attempt to deepen relationships with the rest of the communion, because real relationships are built on authenticity.” What about being authentic with Jesus? Maybe because the Episcopal church doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, authenticity with Him doesn’t matter.

Choice statement #3: “But some at the convention warned that the Episcopal Church could pay a price for snubbing its international partners.” What about the price for snubbing Jesus?

Choice statement #4: “‘It is time for our church to be liberated from the hypocrisy under which it has been laboring,’ Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington, Ky., told his fellow bishops on Tuesday.”  Indeed! Like the hypocrisy of calling themselves “Christian” when they refuse to even acknowledge Jesus Christ.

Choice statement #5: In interviewing a particular convention delegate, the article states, “… he said he believes that the church can grow by emphasizing ‘inclusivity,’ the favorite buzzword of Episcopalians.” I’d like to propose a new buzzword for them: “Jesus”. They seem to have forgotten that one.

Choice statement #6: Referring to many of the attending bishops, “Above all, they are concerned that the Episcopal Church has jeopardized its place in the Anglican Communion, the international network of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.” What about being concerned about jeopardizing their place with Jesus?

And finally: “To theological conservatives, these are signs of a church that will ultimately collapse because it has sold its soul to secular political causes.” What a sad statement, but apparently all too true.

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Yet, what is the official documented position of the Episcopal Church? Since newspaper articles can sometimes contain errors, I went in search of an authorized statement. Resolution DO25 defines the issues that were voted on and approved. You can check it out for yourself (find it here), and you will find that there is no mention of Jesus Christ. It appears to boil down to their buzzword, “inclusivity.” That word is more important to them than Jesus’ word. To me, no mention of Jesus is proof they no longer care about Him.

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I suppose you could say there is nothing overtly wrong with the Episcopal church failing to make any mention of Jesus. I don’t think I buy that, but now I want to look at the issue that was voted upon, the ordination of gay bishops.

It’s widely known that Jesus did not directly say that homosexuality is a sin. But look at His definition of marriage:

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:6-9)

Marriage, being exclusively between a man and a woman, at least hints at Jesus’ view of homosexuality.

However, the rest of the bible is clear. For example, Paul succinctly states that, like many other common lifestyles, homosexuality is indeed a sin:

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Therefore, in God’s eyes a homosexual is no different from me. I happen to be heterosexual, but I am also a sinner. In God’s eyes, the only difference between a gay person and me is the nature of our sins. Some of our sins are different, some we may share.

But the real difference between a gay Episcopal bishop and me, is our personal response to our individual sins. I repent, they don’t. I acknowledge which behaviors of mine are sinful, and I constantly ask God for help in changing my ways. The gay Episcopal bishops see nothing wrong with their behavior, as evidenced by the fact that they deny homosexuality is a sin.

Looking back at the verses from 1 Corinthians above, in the behaviors of those who will not “inherit the kingdom of God;” I’m in there, along with the homosexual bishop. But, because I continually strive to repent and change my ways, “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The singularly principal theme of the New Testament is this: have faith and repent of your sins, and you will be forgiven. By looking at the Episcopal church and their recent decisions, it’s safe to say there is no repentance. And based on the apparent absence of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal church, I would also say there is no faith.

So what’s my bottom line here? The Episcopal church has “sold their soul to secular political causes.” They have divorced themselves from their founder Jesus Christ, so they can marry anyone they choose. They are no more “Christian” than a Buddhist or Muslim.


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What is love?

When I was young, inexperienced and foolish, I had a very cloudy concept of what love was. In my search for the meaning of love, I didn’t realize I had to first experience it in order to understand it.

My concept of love gradually clarified and grew as I worked my way through a succession of girl friends, until I finally met the young woman who would become my wife. My feelings for her were like none I had ever experienced before. The emotions were intense. I was totally distracted from other things going on around me.

Love felt great. I became totally immersed in the emotions. I smiled almost all the time. Friends at work would tease me when they spotted me smiling while doing tiresome tasks. “He’s thinking about her again,” they would groan. But is this all that love is meant to be, some euphoric roller coaster ride? What is true love? What is the truth about love?

Now that I’m older and full of wisdom (that’s a joke – I’m still foolish), with help from God I believe I finally know the truth about love. I no longer look upon love as a goal, but rather as a journey. And I see two main stages of this journey.

The love of my youth was the first stage of the journey. As much as I am reluctant to admit it, the love of my youth was selfish love. Even the love for my wife was initially selfish love. Yes, I was very considerate and did any kind thing I could possibly think of. I so wanted to make her happy. But in digging down deep inside my self, I now realize that my foundational motivation was all about me. Making my wife happy makes me feel good. My love for her was actually rather self-centered.

Yet on the journey of love I believe it’s a very short step from this selfish stage, to the next; the self-less stage. True love, love as God would have it, is other-centered love. How might a relationship look with this kind of true love?

Image a relationship where the motivation behind each person’s actions has to do exclusively with the welfare of the other person. The husbands’ only focus is on the wellbeing of his wife. And her only purpose is looking after his wellbeing. In this way, they take care of each other’s needs. I don’t need to be concerned about my self; my wife is doing that for me. Can you imaging any better relationship? This kind of love feeds on itself, gradually and continually growing, for each person is constantly giving, rather than taking.

Paul saw this and defined it quite clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)

This is other-centered love. This is a love rooted in humility. This is true love.

Looking at the last line in the verse above, the divorce rate would have us believe that love indeed fails. Yes, selfish love fails. Why do people get divorced? Because, “my needs are no longer being met by my spouse,” as someone once told me. Selfish love breads divorce.

But true love, the love that is focused on the other, that love that gives rather than takes; this never fails. God’s love never fails.


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Christianity has gone commercial

“Shrinking mainline Protestant denominations are turning to marketing to help stem decades of membership losses and stay afloat.” So begins an Associated Press article I recently read in my local newspaper. It seems churches, such as the United Methodist Church, believe large amounts of advertising dollars will help fill the pews again. The Methodists are spending $20 million on their ad campaign.

I can’t help but wonder, what would Jesus do if he were in charge of filling the pews? Would he throw money at the problem of dwindling attendance, or something else?

Jesus and his apostles were faced with a similar challenge around 2000 years ago; how to increase attendance. And yet in a single day, the church in Jerusalem added 3000 new members (Acts 2:41). Christianity spread throughout the Mediterranean in a phenomenally rapid manner, and without the help of television, the internet, or pesky telemarketers. How did they do it? What was their “marketing” secret?

The answers to these questions illustrate the differences between them and today’s mainline churches. The first church leaders devoted themselves to the truth. They were passionate about spreading the truth of the gospel. Their message was not always popular, and many lost their lives because of it, but that didn’t stop them from sticking to the truth.

Today’s mainline churches take a different approach. Many of them preach whatever they think would be a popular message, the politically correct message, with little regard for the truth. They have lost touch with Jesus. That is why they continue to shrink; they are no longer attached to the true vine. When a branch is cut from the vine, it shrivels up and dies. That is what is happening to many mainline churches today, and no amount of advertising will help. What they need to do is become re-attached to Jesus.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)

I dare say that the $20 million from the Methodist Church would be better spent feeding the poor, rather than feeding Madison Avenue ad agencies.


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Do you remember Jesus?

Some churches celebrate communion, the Lord’s Supper, every Sunday. Yet, most churches I’m familiar with celebrate only once a month. Was this what Jesus had in mind? What is the truth of His intention for what we call the “Lord’s Supper?”

I was reading about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 this morning. There, and in the account of the supper in Luke, Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In Paul’s account, Jesus says, “…do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25)

Jesus wants us to remember him. He wants us to remember his body that was broken on our behalf. He wants us to remember his blood that was spilled as a penalty for the sins we have committed. But does he want us to remember only once a month? And does he want us to remember only when we go to church? And does he want us to remember only with the help of a duly ordained minister?

I choose to believe something other than what is commonly practiced in modern Christian churches. I choose to believe that Jesus wants us to remember him at every meal. That first “Lord’s Supper” was Jesus’ way of establishing a memory trigger for us. Jesus knew we would need help remembering what he went through for us. For me anyway, it’s easy to remember to pray and ask for help. But I don’t often focus my thoughts on Jesus’ sacrifice, and in doing so, offer prayers of thanks along with my prayers for help.

From now on, I choose to treat every meal as a “Lord’s Supper.” I choose to respond to the trigger I believe Jesus intended, and remember what Jesus did for you and me, at every meal. For the more often I remember, the more I will be grateful. And the more I am grateful, the stronger will be my love for Jesus. And the stronger my love, the better servant will I become.

Please share your thoughts on the Lord’s Supper. Am I way off base here? I want to learn the truth. Thank you.


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Christianity – Its Own Worst Enemy

Christians are driving people away from God, according to a recent survey. If you’ve visited my blog before, you might have picked up on the fact that I definitely believe that Christianity is its own worst enemy. Yesterday I discovered that other people feel the same way.

In the editorial section of yesterdays newspaper was an article by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts. The title, “Religion is driving people away from God” immediately caught my attention. The article sites the results of the recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted by researchers at Trinity College (find it here).

The survey results show that Christianity, along with other religions, is on the decline in the United States. Mr. Pitts mentions that he believes the cause is simply that “religion has become an ugly thing.” I agree.

In the highlight section of the ARIS survey, the following claim is made: “The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.” Organized religion is pushing people away from Christianity and away from God. Is that pathetic or what?

This “organized religion” is not the kind of Christianity that Jesus created. Jesus had something else in mind when he launched the apostles off on the mission to make disciples of all nations. But the bright side of this story is that there remain glimmers of hope and truth within Christianity. There are some churches that remain true to His word. And my hope and purpose for this blog site is that here too will be found the truth of Jesus Christ.


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Imagine a new kind of church

I have often wondered about what kind of church Jesus had in mind, when He first set things in motion. I try to imagine how the church would look like today, if Jesus had physically stayed around to direct the growth of His church. I find myself looking back to the earliest churches, described in Acts. The church that I imagine looks something like this:

Small groups of people meet in houses. There is no paid staff and there are no church building mortgages or other expenses. Yet there is an offering. The offering from each small house-church goes into some kind of central pool. Whenever an attendee of the church has a financial need, their needs are provided for out of the church pool. And likewise, non-financial needs are also meet by the church, primarily the small group which is really an extension of the family.

I also envision no formal membership process; if you attend even once, you are considered part of the family. When the “house churches” meet, their purpose might simply be to worship God, study His word, and learn about and pray for the needs of each other. This would leave no room for “traditions” (I have a strong aversion to traditions, which tend to get in the way of having a true relationship with Jesus).

Imagine a church whose only purpose is to worship God and help each other. Imagine the magnetic power of a church that is publicly known for lovingly taking care of the needs of those who come to it, looking for help. All “members” of the church are cared for by the church. No condemnation, no guilt, just love. And the “church” would no longer be thought of as a gothic-looking building somewhere, but as a family of loving people. Jesus said that people would know we are His disciples by our love for each other, not by the opulence of the building we meet in.

It seems to me that a model like that would work. Sure there are all kinds of opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantage of such a model. But that’s where faith comes in; with the faith that Jesus would honor and care for such a church.

In this time of economic turmoil when such a loving, self-supporting church is truly needed; I still imagine, and hope.


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Weird Catholic Rules

[Look, something brought you to this blog post. If it was a mistake—sorry. But if you’d like to see something that is probably more worth your time, please check out the blurb about my soon-to-be-published novel on my new website. It’s basically about seeing a different perspective of Jesus, through the eyes of some background characters in the Bible. New website: cjpenn.com]


 

A few years ago my father, who was never really a church-goer, decided to join the Catholic Church, the church of my step-mother. I was pleased my dad was showing signs of faith, but my pleasure turned to dismay after I got the call from my mom. As part of my fathers’ application process, or whatever you go through to join the Catholic Church, the church mailed a stack of forms to my mother for her to fill out and sign. What the forms boiled down to was the annulment of the marriage of my parents. Since this would have resulted in my sisters and me being effectively declared illegitimate, my mom respectfully declined and tossed the forms in the trash.

Fortunately for my dad (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the Catholic Church still allowed him to join, even without my moms signature – I guess my dads signature was enough to wipe from the record his divorce from my mom.

You see, that’s what the process was all about… the church had to first cleanse my father of his divorce record, before they would allow him to join. But the message goes beyond just divorce. The implication is that you cannot join the Catholic Church unless you have no visible sins attached to you. Since divorce is a sin, you have to void the divorce by voiding the marriage. I’m sure I’m over-generalizing, but you get my point.

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I have several concerns about this whole episode. First of all, maybe my parents’ marriage didn’t happen in the eyes of the Catholic Church (after all the forms were filled out), but God witnessed that first marriage; a marriage that began with oaths to Him, and produced three children. The Catholic Church may choose to ignore the truth, but God certainly will not. My real concern is this: does the Catholic Church believe that God will close His eyes, just because they choose to?

Second, divorce is clearly a sin – Jesus said so. We all sin – Jesus said so. But the story of our sins is not twisted in a way that makes it look like there was no sin (as the Catholic Church has twisted the story of my parents’ marriage). With Jesus, acceptance is far simpler than that. With Jesus we are accepted into His church not because of some manipulated image of sinlessness, but because of our faith – Jesus said so.

Third, so we are accepted into Jesus’ church not by being sinless, but by having faith and being repentant of the sins we do have. Yet the Catholic Church appears to have a higher standard.

The fourth thing that bothers me is this concept of the Catholic Church cleansing my father of past sins. There is no action by man that can clean someone of their sins, or hide their sins, or pretend their sins never happened. Jesus is the only one who can do this, and he’s already done it, by dying for our sins on the cross. Yet the Catholic Church appears to believe that they are the ones who must clean us of our sins before we can be presented to Jesus.

And finally, all of my concerns boil down to this: the Catholic Church appears not to believe in the grace of God. They appear not to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. They appear not to believe that we are forgiven because of our faith, not by anything we may do.


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Is all evil from God?

I once read a blog post that claimed that God created evil, and therefore God is evil. One thing that was interesting about this post is that it was written by an atheist who also stated, “I do not claim to know God because God is a lie, an invention of men.” I often find it interesting how atheist bloggers spend so much time writing about something they don’t believe in.

There are several things I want to say about this concept of God creating evil. First of all, the atheist blogger made several references to the bible in stating his case. But in the end, he judged God based on taking very small bits and pieces of God’s history. If you want to accurately and fairly judge someone, you need to look at their whole story. But only fools and atheists endeavor to judge God. For who are we to judge the one who created us?

And another thought on this idea of judging God… to judge someone, you also need to know something about their motives. In a murder trial, the judge wants to know if the crime was pre-meditated or not. Who of us could possibly know God’s motives? And did you notice, the atheist blogger stated he does not know God, but he apparently knows God enough to judge Him as evil.

Second, I don’t believe that God created evil, but I do believe that He allowed evil to be created, and I believe that all evil originated with Satan, as recorded in the creation story in Genesis.

To better understand God’s relationship with evil, consider a human analogy: A parent has something to do in the creation of their child. Let’s say that despite all the parents’ efforts to lovingly raise their child, the child becomes a chainsaw murderer. In our society, will the parent be tried and found guilty of murder? Is the parent in any way blamed for the child’s crimes? Usually not. Yet the atheist blogger wants to blame God for the evil acts of His children. How convenient.

But WHY did God allow evil to be created and proliferate. The bible seems to indicate that it’s because God allows freedom of choice. Satan chose evil and enticed the human race to choose to follow him. Now the atheist blogger stated that he didn’t believe in free will. Again, how convenient (if I have no free will, I’m obviously not responsible for my actions).

And finally, why is it that some people choose to blame God for evil? Again, a common human characteristic is that we don’t want to take responsibility for our own actions. Like the person who sued McDonalds when she spilled a cup of hot coffee in her lap. Some people want to blame God for all the evil in the world, simple because they don’t want humanity to take responsibility for it. And they solidify their case by claiming there is no free will.

Yet again, how convenient… evil is from God, humans have no free will, so when someone does something evil, it’s not their fault, it’s God’s. What a cop out. What childish denial.

Not only does the truth set you free, but it sometimes might hurt.


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The “ME” Generation Gone Wild

“City council drops moment of silence” – so stated the headline of the lead article in today’s local newspaper. The article went on to say, “The City Council has dropped its ritual moment of silence at the start of meetings, and some members questioned whether the Pledge of Allegiance should go next.”

As I read on, I wanted to know why. Why get rid of the moment of silence? The answer came two paragraphs later…

“The change came at the request of one of the council’s newest members, who said the practice could be seen as a form of prayer and might offend those who don’t want to participate.”

It didn’t really answer my question, yet there were clues. But it got me thinking about a more general issue which goes far beyond whether or not to observe moments of silence in small-town council meetings. There is a movement underway endeavoring to wipe out anything religious. Our country which was founded because people were looking for freedom of religion, is now a country where there is a strong push for freedom from religion.

Again I ask why, yet regrettably I think I already know the answer, and the answer actually goes far beyond the anti-religious movement. Why are people anti-moments-of-silence? Why are some anti-anything-religious? Why are others anti-(name any group of people, political party, belief, etc.)?

It’s all about selfishness and arrogance.

The new city council member either wants to exert new-found power because of his arrogance, or he just cannot stand the idea of other people believing differently than he does; again, because of his arrogance.

Arrogance is why the minority side of any issue thinks they should have it their way. People in our society are just unwilling to loose. They are unwilling to accept something they don’t happen to personally support. It’s the “me generation” gone wild. There is an epidemic of arrogance, selfishness and even bigotry, on the rise in our generation.

The anti-religion movement is rooted in selfishness as well. An atheist wants to make a name for himself, and becomes intoxicated on the power of his influence. Or maybe because of their bigotry (which is another form of self-centeredness and arrogance), they despise those who are different from themselves. Had you ever considered attacks on religion by atheists as an act of bigotry? Think about it.

And the “religious” are not immune. No one is immune from the diseases of the ego. All of the world’s conflicts, whether among nations or married couples or just two co-workers, are rooted in self-centeredness and arrogance. Get over it people!

We need to all grow up and stop acting like spoiled brats. We cannot always get our way, and we just need to accept that. And we need to start thinking more about others, and less about our selves.

What our society needs more than anything is a good old-fashioned dose of humility. And this actually gets me back to the bible, where humility is held in high esteem. For as Jesus said,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)


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Faith of a Child

My sister once told me that she couldn’t believe what was written in the bible because Genesis talks about people living hundreds of years, and she just didn’t think that was possible. All it took was one thing she couldn’t understand for her to discount the entire bible.

I suspect we’ve all come across people like this, maybe even ourselves at times; there’s something in the bible we don’t understand, and since we feel we should be able to understand, we choose not to believe. After all, why should I believe in something (like God), I cannot possibly understand?

I was reminded of this tendency last night, as I was channel surfing on the TV. I stumbled upon a movie where the particular scene had Jewish concentration camp prisoners putting God on trial*. Their verdict was that God was guilty of putting them in the concentration camp (since I didn’t see the whole thing, I may be wrong). They came to that verdict by analyzing God’s actions as recorded in the Old Testament. There was so much about God’s actions that they simply did not understand, so they condemned God because of that lack of understanding.

* (it was a Masterpiece Theater show appropriately titled, “God on Trial”)

What might Jesus have to say about our apparent need to understand all His ways?

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Jesus is telling us that we need to have the faith of a child. Look at it from this perspective: in no way can a child understand all the ways of their parents. Yet, the child still believes in their parents, and loves them unconditionally. So it should be with us and God. True faith is accepting the fact that we cannot possibly understand why God allows certain things to happen. We just accept and believe anyway.

Also, why is it that so many of us have this need to understand all? Simple… ego. Our ego is hungry and wants to understand. And if our ego is not satisfied, it may cause us to act like a child who throws its toy because they are not happy with the answer.

So I guess we all have a choice. We can be a spoiled brat type of child, or a child whose love is not tied to conditions of needing to understand all.

Something to think about on Martin Luther King’s birthday.


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He turned the world upside down

A basic principle in life is that if you follow the rules, you will benefit in some way. If you follow the rules at your job, doing what’s expected of you, then you will continue to get a paycheck. If you follow the rules at school, diligently studying and doing all the assignments, then you’ll get good grades. If you follow the rules within society, obeying the civil laws, than you can enjoy some level of freedom, protection and rights. If you follow the rules in your relationships, being kind and considerate to others, than family, friends and co-workers will be kind and considerate to you. If you follow the rules of whatever religion you choose, then you will gain whatever benefits that religion advertises.

Of course all these examples first require that we believe in the rules and be willing to follow them. We need to first trust that following the rules will provide the expected benefit. If I don’t trust my employer, if I believe they might not actually pay me, then I’m outta there.

So the means to life’s benefits is to first trust, then follow and obey, and then collect the prize; whether it’s a paycheck, or continued civil freedoms, or whatever. Trust, obey, then benefits; always in that order. Your “obedience” comes from a desire to gain the “benefits.”

Now please allow me to put you into a story that mixes up this three-step process…

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Imagine you have lost your job and the bank is foreclosing on your mortgage – for some of you, this may come far too easily. As you sit in front of your TV, trying to find a moment’s distraction from your worries, there’s a knock at the door. You get up to find a man in a three-piece suit standing on your front step. What now? Someone from the bank perhaps, with more bad news. How much worse can it get?

Upon reluctantly opening the door, you discover he’s not from the bank, but he is a businessman and he claims to have a proposition for you. But first he’d just like to chat so you can get to know each other. What the heck; you have nothing else to do.

As the minutes slip by, you find yourself becoming more amazed with this stranger sitting across from you. For someone who at first appeared very intimidating in his clothing and manner, you find his personality quite enchanting. You cannot help but like him.

After chatting for an hour or so, he re-directs the subject back to his original purpose; the proposition.  Without any fanfare, he states that he wishes to give you the money to pay off your mortgage.

“What? Why?” you ask (these are the only words you can muster, being a bit in shock as it were). His only response, “Do you believe that I would do this for you?” You don’t quite understand why; maybe it’s because of the sincerity, honesty, integrity, and even love that he conveyed while chatting to you, but after thinking for just a moment you say yes, you do believe. He immediately responds, “That’s why. That’s the reason I’m giving you this money. Just because you believe I will.”

Without a pause for effect, he pulls out of his inside coat pocket a certified cashier’s check, already made out in your name and for the exact amount of the balance on your mortgage. The state of shock intensifies as you stare at the check in your hands.

As the man now gets up to leave, you ask him, “What can I possibly do to thank you for this?” He smiles and quietly reaches into the same inside coat pocket and this time pulls out a business card. Handing the card to you he says, “I would like to give you a job. If you want it, be at my office next Monday, at 8:00. And by the way, your salary will be double what you got at your last job.”

When you look up from staring at the card, you find he is gone, but the personality that he exuded seems to remain.

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Trust, benefits, and then obedience. In this story, obedience comes from gratitude for benefits already received, rather than a promise of benefits yet to be collected.

Most religions adhere to the more typical path; first trust and have faith, then obey the laws and rules, and then you will find the peace, joy, happiness, eternal life in heaven, 40 virgins in heaven, or whatever else the religion is offering to you. But Christianity, with the exception of some notorious denominations, follows the upside down path. To illustrate, here’s another story for you, this time not made up by me…

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” (Mark 10:51-52)

In Jesus’ day, people believed that someone was blind as punishment for sins they had committed. Jesus didn’t first ask for obedience. He didn’t even ask for a commitment to obey. He just looked for faith in the blind man, and finding it in the certainty of the man’s desire to see, Jesus gave him sight. Having received the “benefit,” the man out of joyous gratitude, followed (i.e., obeyed) Jesus.

The truth of Christianity is contrary to the ways of our world. Jesus has turned the world upside down. All you need do is believe. And as your love for God grows, so will your obedience; obedience out of love and gratitude…

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

And during this time of Christmas celebrations, when the distractions reach a peak, please remember that God gives first, and God loves first.

“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

…and Jesus died for us first…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

…and Jesus was born FOR us…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

May this Christmas find you surrounded by the love of Jesus, the man who turned the world upside down. And more than surrounded; filled with His love, to where the love is spilling over and splashing onto others in your life.

Merry Christmas


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Out of work and in despair? – a follow-up

Do you believe you aren’t good enough for God to care? Well, God does care, just like a loving parent. But like a parent, God knows when to hold back and not interfere in your life.

A wise parent, when observing their adult child struggling with a problem, may themselves struggle with the desire to jump in and help find a solution. But the wise parent will hold back and wait. They wait for their child to either find their own solution, or admit they cannot, and finally ask for help.

God is the wisest of parents. He will not interfere; He will not help you until and unless you ask. The real power behind asking is this: in asking you exhibit a humility that admits you cannot do it alone, and you exhibit a faith in God that shows you believe in Him. Of course, asking is power-less unless you ask with humility and faith. I once wrote a post on asking God for help. I really hope you check it out (see it here).

And no matter what you may have done in the past, no matter how “good” or “bad” you think you may be, God loves you and He wants to help you. Yet it’s critical that you realize what’s important is faith, not how good or bad you are.

“A person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15-16)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Help from God does not come from obedience to His laws, but rather by faith in His son. We do not become “right” by doing right; this is because none can do right always, there are none without sin. Therefore, our only hope is faith.

Being right in God’s eyes; being “good” in God’s eyes comes from faith in Jesus Christ, not obedience. Do you feel you are not good enough? Do you feel you are not worthy of God’s love? Being “good” and being “worthy” are not what’s required. The only thing that counts is faith.

During this holiday season, if you are down and in despair, please look to God and put your trust and faith in Him. And with humility and faith, ask Him to help you out of your despair.

I wish you a truly Merry Christmas.


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Out of work and in despair?

Do you find yourself out of work this holiday season? Are you in despair and feeling like you don’t know where to turn for help? Maybe the idea of seeking help from God has crossed your mind, but you’ve ruled it out for some reason. Maybe you feel like your past is too dark for God to be willing to help you. Maybe you feel like you’re just not good enough. Or maybe you feel like you just don’t know God well enough for Him to be willing to help you. Do you feel like you need to be “special” before God will answer your prayers?

I may have news for you: God is more gracious and loving than that. Today I wish to give you a Christmas card of sorts. Today I give you God’s words, dedicated to you.

Please read these words as your prayer to God…

“Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.” (Psalm 25:7)

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.” (Psalm 25:16-18)

“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:8-9)

“Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame,” (Psalm 25:2-3)

And please read these words as Jesus Christ responding directly to you…

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

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

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” (John 12:47)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

“Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)

My Christmas wish for everyone who reads this post is this: may you feel God’s presence and feel His love, more than ever before. And may you feel freedom from the things that cause you to worry; may you feel the un-wavering peace that can only come from Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Sincerely,

E.D. Jones


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Message to Atheists – what if I’m wrong?

I believe in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But what if I’m wrong? What if I come to the end of my life and discover it was all a lie? What if the end is truly the end; no benevolent Father in heaven, no heaven, no after-life? What a drag that would be. All this effort to believe, worship and follow – all for nothing.

But would it really be for nothing? This morning I started wondering how I might feel if I discovered it were indeed all a lie. Since I was agnostic up to my late 30’s and an atheist during part of those earlier years, I had a baseline for evaluating how my faith has affected my life. What did that faith do to me? How did that faith change me; the faith that I was now considering as possibly based on a lie?

Here are some of the changes that faith has made in my life:

  • I don’t swear like I used to.
  • I don’t lie like I used to.
  • I’m not as arrogant as I used to be. I’m much more humble.
  • I’m willing to acknowledge when I’m wrong, instead of trying to blame someone or something else (I used to do this a lot).
  • Faith has taught me to be much more patient than I used to be.
  • I don’t worry about things like I used to. I just trust that God will make the right things happen.
  • I used to run away from relationships that didn’t serve my self-interests. But with faith, I’ve been more willing to accept circumstances that are not always pleasant.
  • Faith has given me the strength to resist the temptation to cheat on my spouse, and I’ve been tempted a lot.
  • I used to be afraid of death. But now, the only thing that concerns me about death is the welfare of those I will leave behind.
  • I don’t agonize over people who have wronged me. Instead I’m now able to forgive them and very effectively let go of the pain. My relationship with God has taught me to replace hate with forgiveness, sorrow and sympathy. And now, memories of past wrongs bring peace, not pain.

I could go on, but it all boils down to the following: my faith in God and Jesus Christ has taught me about humility, love, hope, and how to more easily relate to and accept others.

In looking at all this I realize that I like what my faith in God has done for me. So if I discover tomorrow that my faith is based on a lie, I will be crushed and greatly disappointed, but I will definitely not feel that I wasted my life on something false. No matter what, I’m happy with what faith has done to me.

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But dear Atheist, what if I’m right? What if you come to the end of your life and discover it’s not really the end? What if you discover all this propaganda about heaven and hell, about salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, about God; what if it’s all true?

C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia fame), is quoted as saying, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of NO importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

I don’t know about you, but I would rather be a Christian and be wrong, than an Atheist and be wrong. The potential outcome isn’t nearly as devastating.


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Catholic Church – still holding to militant past?

The article in this morning’s newspaper, titled “Vatican issues bioethics statement”, included a picture of the Vatican officials at a news conference. The caption under the picture read, “From left… (the names of the five men in the picture)… attend a news conference on bioethics at the Vatican on Friday. At top is the Vatican’s coat of arms.”

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I put down my cup of coffee and was on my way to the computer before I even started reading the article. It was the caption under the picture that stirred me to action. I never knew the Vatican had a “coat of arms.”

It didn’t surprise me, with the militant history of the Catholic Church. But it was the incongruity of having a symbol of military might, contrasted with the topic of the sanctity of life that caught my attention. The two just don’t go together.

But what bothers me the most is that there still exists a Vatican coat of arms. Why can’t the Vatican let go of their militant past and do away with the coat of arms?

It is just another way in which the Catholic Church is contrary to the ways of Jesus Christ. Would Jesus condone a coat of arms for His church?


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Money – Can you always rely on it?

Over coffee this morning, a friend told me about the layoffs that had just taken place at his job. He asked for prayers for several friends who were now out of work – more victims of the crumbling economy. We talked about the condition of the newly-unemployed, and reflected on how much we all tend to rely on money. And that’s what I want to talk about today…

What does money do for you? Off the top of my head, this is what money gives to me:

  • House, plenty of food, health care, toys, stuff
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • If used in the right way, it can help find happiness and joy
  • Sense of security, freedom from worry (about financial things anyway)

What’s it boil down to? What are the key, foundational benefits of money and material wealth? Well, I don’t think it’s the material things that money can buy – those are just intermediate benefits. Those material things contribute to the foundational things, which are all emotional, rather than material, such as:

  • Sense of security
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Freedom from worry
  • Peace

But as we are seeing in today’s economic mess (and some of us in a very personal way), money is not a very reliable thing to rely on. Here yesterday, and gone today. Upside down mortgages (where you owe more on your house than it is currently worth), vaporized investments, lost jobs – these are the realities of today. And no one is immune, no matter where they are on the corporate or social ladder. Just look at any days newspaper headlines.

Jesus Christ told a parable that I believe can relate to our tendency to rely on money and material wealth for our safety and security.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

To really hear what Jesus teaches us, to have faith in Him, to love Him and put our hope in Him; to put our reliance in Jesus is like building our house on a firm foundation. But to rely on things other than Jesus, like money, is like building our house on sand.

My message for today is this: if you find yourself a victim of these hard economic times, where the ground seems to be falling out from under you, where your financial foundation is eroding away, please try to let go of your dependence on money; that will only lead to despair. Instead, put your reliance on something that will never change, will never go away, and will never diminish. Put your dependence on God.

Just look at the things money can buy, that I previously mentioned: Peace, sense of security, sense of accomplishment, freedom from worry. This is what God brings us as well. As Jesus said…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

As the apostle Paul once said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Money may be able to buy you a temporary peace, a peace that can be demolished by external events beyond your control. But as Paul states, the peace that comes from God is something beyond our understanding. The peace of God is not of our world. As Jesus stated in the first verse above, He doesn’t give us a worldly peace. He gives us a peace that cannot be affected by worldly events. He gives us a peace that can stand firm in the midst of economic calamity.

I know; we just can’t understand such a peace. How can we possibly imagine something that we may have never experienced? My advice to you is this: listen to what Jesus and Paul have said. Just accept that this peace which is beyond our understanding is available to you. Just believe.

So during this time of economic upheaval, like nothing most of us have ever experienced before, you have a choice: continue to rely on money for your well-being, as unreliable as money has proven to be. Or shift your reliance to God. Yes, it takes faith, and that may be the difficult part for you. But don’t you think it’s at least worth a bit of your time and consideration?

And for those of you who already regard yourself as Christian, if this economy has you down as well, please take that as a sign that maybe your reliance is more on money than God. You too have a choice.


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Death penalty or a pardon; it’s not up to you

The headline will proclaim that another wacko took a life in the name of God; their belief being that God came to them in a dream and told them to murder. Would it surprise you to hear that there is a Baptist church that believes the US government should be the executioner for God?

I have been on a letter-writing campaign, periodically submitting comments to the web site of the Westboro Baptist Church, the home of Pastor Fred Phelps, a person well-known as a preacher of hate. What follows is a comment I submitted about this topic of prescribing the death penalty in the name of God.

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Dear Mr. Phelps,

In your sermon of August 24th, which I recently listened to on the WBC wet site, you mentioned that God prescribed the death penalty to sodomites. Yes, indeed He did. And you mentioned something about the need for this country to carry out that death penalty, from Washington on down. You said…

“…this nation won’t even approach getting right with God, until they reinstitute the death penalty for sodomy, from Washington on down.”

There are two things about this statement that concern me. First of all, it seems to ignore the fact that for those who believe and repent, Jesus already took the death penalty upon Himself. Even if someone continues to sin (as we all do – there are none without sin), and yet also continues to repent, there is no death penalty awaiting them.

[As a side note, it occurs to me that we may continue to sin out of human nature and habit (not always out of a desire to sin), but we continue to repent out of love, for God and His Son. Another example of why love is the answer, not hate. But this is just my opinion, so take it or leave it.]

The second thing that concerns me about your death penalty statement is this: is it really the nation’s responsibility to enact the death penalty for those who do not believe and who unrepentantly sin against God’s laws? It would be wrong for humans to take on responsibilities that belong exclusively to God. In searching for an answer, I found the following:

“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:7-8) The Holy Spirit of God is to judge, not us.

“For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’” (Hebrews 10:30)

As God told Isaiah, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.” (Isaiah 13:11)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'” (Romans 12:17-20)

This last passage of scripture contains so many messages from God, where I hope and pray that you and all those at Westboro Baptist Church will have the eyes to see. Do not repay evil, for evil. Live peaceably with all men. Leave vengeance and the responsibility for punishment with God. And you will do more for God by feeding your enemy, than hating them.

Dear Mr. Phelps, please open your heart. No matter what your personal feelings are about those who sin, please be an example of the ultimate act of humility; please let go of your feelings and your desires, and embrace what God wants for you. Not your will, but His will be done in your life.

Sincerely,

E.D. Jones


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It’s not about material wealth

To all those who adhere to what is sarcastically called the “prosperity gospel,” your beliefs are not new. The apostle Paul confronted a lot of people who put too much importance into material things, such as money. As kind of a follow-up to last weeks post on the Prosperity Gospel (see it here), I would like to offer some advice from Paul…

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)

“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… For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:3-4, 21)

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 5:5-6)

“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)

The material is temporary. Money is temporary. But our relationship with God and Jesus is eternal; that’s where our focus needs to be. We need to set our minds on Jesus, and stop pursuing money.


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Would Jesus hate?

There are some who believe God hates you and me. I have been on a letter-writing campaign, periodically submitting comments to the web site of the Westboro Baptist Church, the home of Pastor Fred Phelps, a person well-known as a preacher of hate. Hoping that others may gain something by seeing the comments I’ve submitted, I have been periodically posting these comments on this blog. What follows is an oldie but a goodie.

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Dear Mr. Phelps,

Please understand that if I didn’t sincerely care for the collective souls of the Westboro Baptist Church, I would not keep writing to you. By the way, it is not in my nature to care for people who I consider so filled with hate. My natural tendency would be to hate you right back (see, I’m not immune to hypocrisy). So the only explanation I can give you for my compassion is this: as with all good things, it comes from God. God has somehow softened my heart and truly filled me with care and compassion for all of you. That is why I keep writing.

You remain in my thoughts and prayers daily. And it was while praying for you that the idea for this letter came to me. God put it on my heart, and in my mind, to write again to you today. As with all things, His words convey the message that is on my heart, far better than any words I could come up with.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)

“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” (Matthew 19:21

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:49-50)

“The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

Treat others as you wish to be treated. Forgive others as God forgives us. In all things, do as Jesus did. Speak Gods words, not our own. Jesus being both God and human while He walked the earth, we will do well to speak as Jesus spoke while we still walk the earth. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is how we should act, feel and speak, if we are to truly follow Jesus.

And this brings me to what has been on my heart. Where did Jesus ever tell anyone that He hated them? He chastised people, to be sure. But He never once told someone He hated them. Nor did He tell anyone that God hated them. And neither should we!

You are not following Jesus! Please heed His warning:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Please Mr. Phelps! Honor your savior. I beg you to open your heart and see the truth behind your actions. But don’t listen to me; listen to Jesus, and follow Jesus.

Sincerely,

E.D. Jones