No Other Gods But God Only!

Speaking to people today it appears that they have numerous – and often many – gods before God Almighty. They worship money and all that it can do for them. The pleasure it can bring. They put technology before God and spend more time posting on Facebook and Instagram than they spend in God’s Word and in His presence. They have a seriously dysfunctional relationship with their followers on Facebook, their phones, and their many social apps. But they don’t care. They know something should change. But they just shrug it off. They think, “I’m fine with it. I like it. This is just my thing. Even if it’s wrong, even if God has something better for me, I don’t care.”

In the Old Testament, Gideon faced a similar problem with the people around him. They willingly bowed to idols and thumbed their noses at God in the process. But God was having none of it. With righteous passion, He told Gideon, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:25). Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to help the people manage their idols, to shorten them by a few feet, just keep them under control. No, He commanded Gideon to tear them down. Cut down the poles. Don’t tolerate the idols. Crush them. Destroy them. Smash them. Obliterate them.

If you know your unhealthy obsessions are interfering with your most important relationships — with people or with God — it’s time to act.

Today.

This moment.

Now.

God doesn’t want you to have any gods before Him. Not a single one. God longs for you to know Him, to enjoy His constant presence and goodness, to walk by His Spirit, and to live in His love.

When Jesus saw a rich guy who idolized his money and things, Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack, He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21 emphasis added).

Don’t miss Jesus’ motivation here for asking so much of this rich young guy. Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give all his money to Him and to His disciples, or to the building fund for the new temple. Jesus simply loved him. Do you see that? Jesus loved him. And Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be seduced into settling for something counterfeit. He wants you to embrace His grace, satisfied in your soul, because He is not only all you need but more than you can imagine. 

It’s interesting to me that at least in the Gospel record, Jesus didn’t tell anyone else to sell everything snd give away all their money. This is the only time that Jesus gives such a specific command. Why did He tell this guy and no one else to get rid of everything? It’s not because God doesn’t want us to have money and things; it’s that He doesn’t want money and things to have us. Without question, the things of this world had this rich man’s heart. They consumed him. He’d been seduced. And because Jesus loved him, He wanted him to have something better. So He commanded him to get rid of his idols and follow Him.

If you sense the Spirit of God nudging you (or maybe it’s more like a kick in the cursor), don’t ignore Him. He loves you. If your soul has been seduced into serving a counterfeit god, the one true God wants something better for you.

But gaining the better requires tearing down the idol.

Don’t manage it.

Destroy it. 

Living With Hope and Certainty!

A lot of people today have the understanding that it really does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in what it is you say you believe. Of course this plays well until we come to the place in life when we are genuinely facing our own possible death. Then what we believe immediately comes into sharper focus and becomes seriously important.

What you believe should shape the lifestyle you live. But what you believe – sincere or not – will seriously shape your “life after death.” So, it is important to review your foundational beliefs and understandings. And, may I be so bold as to suggest, check them again what the Christian faith and the Bible sets forth as truth. Even if you are not a Christian you might still take a look at what the Bible teaches about death and life after death. Just to give yourself a context and something to bounce your own beliefs off of at such an important time. 

I just read Alex Trebek’s autobiography “The Answer Is… Reflections on my life.” He is the host of the long-running game show “Jeopardy.” The back of the dust jacket reads: “I believe in the will to live. I believe in the power of positivity. I believe in optimism. I believe in hope.” Caught my interest and so I took the time to read what is an amazing story and a well written book. 

In the last few pages of the book, the author writes of his current battle with terminal cancer. He writes…

“But when death happens, it happens. Why should I be afraid of it? Now, if it involves physical suffering, I might be afraid of that. But, according to my doctor, that’s what hospice is for.

They want to make it as easy as it can possibly be for you to transition into whatever future you happen to believe in. Am I a believer? Well, I believe we are all part of the Great Soul — what some call God. We are God, and God is us. We are one with our maker. How do I know this? It’s not that I know it. It’s that I feel it … I feel it in my gut.

But do I pray to a specific God? Do I anticipate a particular version of the afterlife? No, I do not. For all I know I’ll wind up coming back in another life as a knitter during the French Revolution sitting there like Madame Defarge watching the executions. However, lately I’ve been thinking more and more about that old line they used in the military: “No one’s an atheist in a foxhole.” If ever there was an opportunity to believe in God — a god — this might be a good one. Trebek, now that you’re on the verge. What have you got to lose?”

“The Answer Is…” page 284

Like the author I believe in the will to live. I believe in the power of positivity. I believe in optimism. I believe in hope. But my hope is anchored in my Christian faith. It is based on the words of Jesus who is God in human flesh. It is based on His death and the resulting forgiveness of my sins. And on His resurrection proving He is who He says He is and giving us the hope – really the deep knowledge – that there is life after death. A life in Heaven with Him where we will experience the fullness of His life and actually be all He created us to be. I certainly don’t believe in the “Great Soul” and that “we are God and God is us.” 

Paul an apostle in the Church wrote (1 Corinthians 15) that because Christ has been raised from the dead we can live with hope now in this life. But “if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). Why? Because our hope is also anchored in the historical fact that Christ was raised from the dead and is alive. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (15:20a). So, we not only live with hope now but we live with the hope and knowledge of life after death. 

We don’t have to guess what this might be like. The Bible and our Saviour Jesus is very clear what life after death is like – both for the true believer and for the non-believer. It is not based on living according to what you “sincerely believe.” It is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and having a personal relationship with Him now in this life – day-by-day. Our hope is founded upon the sure and certain fact that Jesus is God and that He died for our sins and was raised again from the dead and is alive today. That we can have a personal relationship with Him as our Lord and Saviour and thus live life with hope and die knowing (not a gut feeling) that He will welcome us into Heaven where there is a place reserved and ready for us as His children. 

  STEP OUT IN FAITH (Overcoming Feeble and Frozen Faith)

Walter invited his good friend Arthur to take a ride with him out into the county. They drove past groves of fruit trees and dilapidated shacks to an area that looked to Arthur like a barren wasteland. Walter began telling his friend about the exciting plans he had for this boring parcel of land southeast of downtown Los Angeles, California. Walter’s express purpose was to give Arthur the opportunity to become an investor in his dream.
Walter had enough money for the main project, but he wanted to ensure that the land surrounding his venture would be bought up at the same time. He was confident that within five years the whole area would be filled with hotels, restaurants, and even a convention center serving the throngs of people who came to visit his development.
But Walter’s friend, radio and television personality Art Linkletter (born a Canadian but living in the United States), could not see the potential and turned down the opportunity to buy up the area of land that now surrounds Disneyland, the dream of his friend, Walt Disney. Today that “barren wasteland” in Orange County, California, is worth billons of dollars.

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SOMETIMES I FEEL INCREDIBLY LONELY

When God created the world, He declared that everything was good (Genesis, Chapter 1)
The sun, the earth, the moon, and the stars — all good!
He was pleased
Pleased with the animals
Pleased with the mountains
Pleased with the oceans
Pleased with the trees
Above all, God was most proud of His best work: Man (“very good”)

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What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Strength or Weakness

Did you know that we actually connect with people through our weaknesses. We may impress them with our strengths, but we connect through our weaknesses

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever met someone, mentally looked them over, and considered the life you think they have? They’re nice looking for their age. Their spouse is attractive. They seem to have great kids. Their life seems to be together. In so many ways, it looks to you like they’re living your dreams. What do you think? “They’re just … so. … perfect. I don’t think I like them!” Right?

Isn’t that tempting to do? 

But that’s not real. You’re not really connecting with them. They’re not connecting with you. We want so badly to connect with others and we think that the best way to do so is by showing off our strengths. But it doesn’t work that way. 

Now, after you’ve spent more time with them and seen them in many different circumstances, you begin to get to know them, and you realize, “Oh. I never would have thought they struggle with some of the same things I do. They’re human after all. You know what? I really like these guys!”

Why? Because we connect through weaknesses.

However — and here’s the issue. We tend not to lead with our weaknesses. We hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths. And, at times, we hide our weaknesses and wear whatever mask we think we need to present to be accepted. We wear masks so that people won’t come to know how weak we really are and thus, we think, not want to connect with us. Not like us. 

How do I know that? Well, we only post on Facebook and other social media what we want people to see. Not the real you but the you that you would want to be. You show only your good side. In fact, you often just make stuff up and post it because you want to come across strong and in control. On Facebook and other social media we have filters that even make us look better in the pictures we post. So, we end up playing a part and playing the role we have created for ourself. But, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re not the person you present to the world. And, e know, deep down inside we are not connecting because the real “we” is no where to be seen. 

The danger is that we can become so used to showing our filleted self, so accustomed to the half-truths and exaggerations, that we don’t even know who our real self is anymore. Are you one person in one group of people and a different person in another group? Until you show who you really are, until you know and are fully known, you’re going to be longing for something more. You won’t really connect.

When we’re always filtered, when every selfie shows only our best side, we may impress some people some of the time. They may think, “Based  

Now that we’re on the same page about this, what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we “turn off” our desire to constantly filter who we show the world we are? Well, some off-the-cuff suggestions would be:

      • Don’t use a filter every time on your photos
      • Try not to care so much about what people think
      • Just be yourself – if you still know what you are

All of this qualify as solid advice. But the truth is you can get advice like this anywhere. I’d much rather give you godly advice, wisdom that can come only from the source: God’s Word. I can give the solution to the problems with one simple phrase. Only Christ can remove the mask.

That’s it. When we turn to Christ, He removes the mask and the need to be someone you’re not.

Maybe you’re exhausted. You’re weary because you’ve already tried everything else you can think of. You’ve looked everywhere you can for affirmation. You’ve turned to one person after another, but you still haven’t found that thing you’re longing for. This is the promise you have from God, straight from His Word: You don’t have to remove the mask. When you turn fully to Christ, He does it for you!

Then you can finally drop the mask because you’re not getting your approval from Likes; you’re getting it from His love. You will no longer be living for the approval of people; you will be living from the approval of God. He will reveal the truth: you are acceptable to God through Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. His grace, His righteousness, is sufficient for you.

When you realize that Christ is all you have, you’ll find that He’s all you need. You don’t need approval from someone else because you have approval from Christ. When you turn fully to Jesus, you have the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead living within you. Your identity is not connected to how many followers you can get. Your identity comes from who you are following, and you are following Jesus. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV).

Have you ever experienced the Spirit of God? Have you ever called out to Him? Asked Him to come and live inside you? When you do, you experience freedom. When we all take the masks off — because our lives are better when we’re together, when we act as the Body of Christ, when we allow each other to see the “real” us — we will truly see the Lord’s glory.

Why? Because we truly connect through our weaknesses and not through our strengths. Because it is not about you and me. It’s not about our selfies. The reason we exist is to give Him glory. When we do, this Scripture says we will begin to be transformed — not into the person we think others want us to be but into His image, bringing ever-increasing glory.

Turn to Christ.

He’ll take your mask(s) off for you.

He’ll transform you into the image of Christ, not for the approval of people but for the glory of God. 

We’re not called to elevate ourselves (John 3:30); we’re called to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The way to follow Jesus in a selfie-centered, social media world is to give Him glory in all we do.  

Surrender your selfies and social media accounts.

Let Jesus lift off your masks.

Be real.

Be you!

Ten Suggestions When Using Social Media

In the Old Testament, when God saved His people out of bondage, He saved them for a purpose. God led Moses to the top of Mount Sinai for forty days. During this time, God not only gave Moses detailed instructions for the tabernacle; He also gave Moses two stone tablets inscribed with special instructions we know as the Ten Commandments. Out of His love for His people, God gave them these moral and spiritual laws to keep them safe as well as set them apart.

In the same spirit, I want to suggest ten commandments for you to consider as you use social media. It’s pretty obvious these didn’t come directly from God. But the principles are definitely based on His Word. I borrowed these from a Christian author who I greatly appreciate and read all that he publishes. These are ten ways to protect your time, your heart, your body, and your soul, as well as deepen your faith through what you type, text, and tweet.

These are simply ten helpful suggestions for how you can use social media in ways that will show others your love for God while not allowing social media to define you or to take an unhealthy place in your life. Social media and technology are amazing tools, and with a little discipline and prayer, they can be a gift to connect with others and reflect your love for an amazing God. So just imagine they’re on virtual stone tablets. I will list the ten of them and then comment on them individually over the next few days.

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Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part Two

 

Blog of September 7, 2020

We are looking at how technology has changed how we relate to others in our day and age. Last time we saw two of three major changes:

1> The term “friend” is evolving

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s continue our look and see number three…

3> We have the power to do friendship on our own terms

Not only do many of us have more virtual Friends than real friends and are addicted to immediate gratification in connecting with others, we face another downside to social media: the power to define relationships on our own terms. Let me explain what this means. Let’s say my friend texts me. I have some choices, don’t I? I can read his text right away, or I can read it later. I can reply as soon as I read it, or I can reply later. I can even choose not to reply at all.

I have complete control over what I do — or what I don’t do.

If another friend posts a picture on Instagram, I have the power to determine several things. For example, is his picture Like-worthy? Is it worth the extraordinary inconvenience of double-tapping my finger on it? Or should I just scroll right on by? If this is another of his stupid cat pictures, you can probably guess what I am going to do. A dog picture. Different.

I am in total and complete control of these friendships; I manage them from a distance. If you are my online friend, I’ll show you only the parts of my life that I want you to see and tell you only what I want to tell you. If I don’t want to respond to the things you choose to show me, I’m not going to. If you post too many pictures of your product, or too many duck-face selfies, or too many “inspirational quotes” that the person you credit may or may not have actually said (because you can’t be bothered to check), or too many pictures of your cat making duck faces, I will unfollow you. We are in control of on-line friendships. And that control is changing how we manage our relationships.

Friendship doesn’t mean what it use to mean. 

I can’t speak for you, but to be really honest, I have to admit that the more I dabble on social media, the more I realize I’m delaying the personal interaction I crave. I have also never been more connected and yet feel so alone.

The author of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Wouldn’t it be amazing to get together with other followers of Jesus and discuss this topic? We could start with, “Guys, how can we become so aggressive in how we show love to one another that other people really stop and think, ‘Hey, these people must be Christians. Have you seen the way they love one another.?’”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 12:25). 

Really let that sink in: “Let’s not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.

Have we fallen out of this practice?

If this passage isn’t enough to convince you, think about friendship in the context of your Christian faith. Think about what Jesus said: “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Isn’t that powerful? Jesus promises us that whenever we come together with other believers in His Name, we will experience His real presence in a supernatural way. Does that mean you con’t experience His presence when you’re alone? Absolutely not! You can. It’s just something more, something special, something powerful happens when we come together with other believers to seek God. When you join hands with someone, when you join your faith together and go before God on His throne, you experience His power and presence together in very real ways (Acts 16:25-26).

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and lift up holy hands before our God to worship Him (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and, as believers have done for centuries, open up God’s Word and read it aloud together (Nehemiah 8:1-12).

Something supernatural happens when we unite our faith and passionately seek God together in prayer (Acts 12:11-14).

Presence is powerful!

Think about it this way: God didn’t shout His love from heaven. He showed His love on earth. He stripped Himself of all heavenly glory and became one of us. God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Even one of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, literally means “God with us.” He came and lived with us, He loved people others rejected. He poured His heart into people who the religious community said were not worthy. He hung out with — and even ate with — tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

Presence is so powerful. So why do so many of us settle for on-line relationships and neglect the old-fashion way of having friends; actually meeting with them one-on-one, face-to-face?  

Sink or Swim

Former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1923-29, 1935-37) is quoted as saying, “I am one of those who would rather sink with faith than swim without it.

The quote, when I read it a few days back, reminded me of three Bible characters; friends. They were put to the test as circumstances where they were living changed drastically. Now they were no longer allowed to practice their faith in the one living God of Israel. They could not practice their faith either privately or publicly. Often in the Scriptures we see people who have their faith tested. I would judge that these three young men went through one of the most severe tests of faith of any Bible character.

Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abednego’s very lives were at stake. They were faced with a terrible dilemma, as the rules for practicing their faith while living in Babylon changed dramatically overnight. They faced a terrible dilemma. They said, “King Nebuchadnezzar is telling us to bow down and worship him instead of God, or he’ll throw us in this fiery furnace. We’re not going to bow down and worship a man, even if that man is a king. We believe that God will deliver us. We believe that God will rescue us. But even if He doesn’t, it will still be okay. We’re not bowing down to anyone but our Lord.”

Do you see that deep, inward, unshakeable faith in a trustworthy God? Theirs wasn’t a faith based on the outcome they desired; it was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. 

Essentially these three teenagers stood boldly and declared,

“We believe our God can.”

“We believe our God will.”

“But even if He doesn’t, we still believe.”

How could they have such confidence? How could they be willing to die instead of making a lifesaving decision and then ask God for forgiveness later?

Because they believed that God is God and that He has everything under control, and that was good enough for them.

They knew that even if they died a terrible excruciating death in the flames of the king’s furnace, God was still God. They believed that the Lord was on His throne and that they simply had to do their part and trust Him.

The Key: It was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. Not based on answered prayer or desired results. It was a faith based on who God was — His character — and not on what He had done or was about to do. 

You might be shocked at how your trial can reveal a depth of faith you never knew you possessed. 1 Peter 1:7 says this: “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (NLT).

When things are not always going the way you want them to or you are about to be overwhelmed by circumstances and your situation. When you are going through one of the many tests and trials of your faith and are wondering if you are going to survive. It is always good to remember three small words that appear in the Bible whenever someone has reached the end of the road and have apparently run out of options and no longer have any hope. Those three little words are: “But the Lord…”

Recently we were looking at the prophet Habakkuk. He didn’t get the answer he wanted from God, but still he believed and hung on to his faith. Although his life was about to grow even harder, still he chose to keep the faith. He knew, like these three young teenagers in the furnace, that God was still God. He knew God was still in charge. No matter what Habakkuk experienced, he kept coming back to those three little words that carry such enormous power:

“But the LORD…”

It would be good for us to remember those words when we are having our faith tested and tried. 

Six Characteristics of Gospel-Shaped Love

Jesus said the most defining characteristic of his church should be its love (those characteristics were then discussed in Romans 12). Your love for each other, He told His disciples, is how the world will recognize that you belong to Me.
What convinces the world of the truth of the Gospel is simply not our defence of the faith; it’s our love for each other. Francis Schaeffer said, “Love on display in the church is Jesus’ final apologetic to the world.”
There are six characteristics of Gospel-shaped love and friendship from Romans 12 that, if the church adopted well, would attract people more than great music or special services. In fact, people would be beating down our doors to hear more.
Our love should be without hypocrisy (Romans 12:9).
One of the worst Southern phrases is “Bless his heart.” That means, “What I just said is really mean, but I’m going to make it okay by seasoning it with some Southern politeness.” For example: “That woman is a snake … bless her heart.”
Paul says our love should be different. It shouldn’t just be seasoned; it should be love all the way down, from our words to what we wish for others in our hearts.

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