Tag: sermon

A Travesty of Evil: Pride

Note: This piece was written by Emmanuel and myself as the first part in a series on evil. What follows is a combination of our thoughts to provide you on the concept of Biblical evil, as it connects to present day. This will be the first of a three part series I will be working on over the next few months.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. –John 3:20 (NKJV)

I’m going to start this a bit differently than usual…

Lord, during these troubled times, help us remember you will deliver us from evil. Help us to remember that, despite being undeserving of your grace, we still receive it. Help us remember that we are to stand firm in faith, to let the world see we are part of your army. Lord, we see such horror around us. We see crime. We see murder. We see men and women berate and demean others for their skin color, their sexual identities, their weight, their social class… for whatever they choose to justify their own hatefulness. We ask you, Father… we ask you to fill our hearts with love. We sorely need it. Help us remember why you sent your Son and why it is important to show Christ to the world. Give us courage Lord. Because we will not let evil stand. We will not surrender to the wicked. We will not turn a blind eye to wrongdoing. In your glorious name, we pray. Amen.

Lately, when we turn our televisions to the latest news report or hop on social media, we are blasted with the latest atrocity. People cry out only for their voices to drown in a vast digital sea of apathy. Merriam-Webster defines evil as being morally reprehensible and arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct. We are living in evil times, brothers and sisters. But, haven’t we done so since Adam and Eve first sinned? Haven’t we since Cain slew Abel?

Before we delve deeper into our study of Biblical evil and how it takes root in our modern world, we should remember the following:

“And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:5 (NKJV)

“The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” – Psalm 121:7-8 (NKJV)

Within these two verses, we see that lines are drawn and forces are given names. As society has progressed, we grow quick to label areas of life gray and not easily defined. These days, even the word evil stirs the cynic in us; only in fiction or when we see truly atrocious behavior by our fellow man, do we wipe the dust off this old concept and grudgingly put it to use. The world, as we would have it, is very gray. But, as the verses above note, light and darkness cannot and do not mix.

Why, then, is there so much evil in the world? Where did it come from? Why is it still here? What do we even do about it?

When we talk about Original Sin, we often point to Adam and Eve, where the couple ate from the tree God explicitly told them not to take from. That is man’s original sin. But what was the original evil? People laugh at the concept of a devil and make light of the name of Lucifer. The spirit world is never taken to be a real place, just a fascinating setting for countless fictions we tell.

Some people believe in it, and some do not. But this does not change the facts: it is real, and things that happen there cause ripples that touch, bless, and destroy human lives.

Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV) tells states, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  It was in this realm of being, that the first act of evil, not yet witnessed by man, occurred. His name is Lucifer, the Morning Star. If Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith,” then Satan is the author of evil. Isaiah 14: 13-14 record his first offense, and the ‘you’ addressed here is Satan:

For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:13-14 NKJV).

The first sin, before Adam and Eve tasted that fatal fruit, was the sin of pride, of trying to do away with the Creator in favor of creation. Or, perhaps it was the act of choosing self over God. That singular event spawned evil, whatever rises against God and what He stands for. And, my friends, it has been growing ever since then. We, sadly, are born into it. All the more reason to jump for joy at the saving grace of Jesus Christ! It was one, Satan, who brought evil into the world of man, but it is One, Christ, who will redeem any who believe on Him. One thing is certain; no matter how evil the times may be, Jesus Christ is still Lord. Cling to that; please do not forget it.

And let’s go back to that word from earlier: pride. As we illustrate how evil got deeper into our society, through Biblical passages, keep that word in your mind. Just how in the world did Adam and Eve, unaware of the very concept of evil, who walked with God like you walk with your own father by your side, fall prey to disobeying their Creator? After all, He was right there. As close as your breath. Humans long just to feel God’s presence, let alone be able to see Him as clear as sunlight. If we lived in a state of perfection, able to feel, touch, and hear God with all our senses, we would think “I’d never disobey Him.”

But…it happened. Why?

Let’s look at Genesis 3:1-6 (NKJV): Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Sound familiar? Satan wanted to be on top, to outdo the Creator. Remember that word pride? Don’t get us wrong – pride is not bad in and of itself. But sadly, we often forget – or simply do not know – that even our accomplishments are the result of God allowing us to flourish or blessing us.

When a child bullies a former friend on the playground, thinking she is better than her. When coworkers laugh behind our backs for being fat and clumsy. When a man lynches another because he esteems him lower than himself. When a husband cheats on his wife or a wife on her husband, forgetting that a marriage is a sacred bond. When genocide is started to remove a supposed threat to a tyrant. If you look deep enough, squint hard enough, you will see the common denominator: the fall of man was (and is) the pride of man. Where are we? Are we standing upon a threshold of acceptance, where we turn a blind eye to evil because it is either too big or too small? There is a spectrum, though stemming from the original source, that seems to diminish evil. Thus, our response differs. Our acceptance differs. Far too often, pride is easier to ignore than it is to address openly. That in itself may be the power of current evil. We cannot address past sins in the way we can address those taking place in the here and now. Our rugs, under which we sweep many things, grow too high. Where is God in this? He is not the savior of brooms. He is a Living God, one who calls us to His higher standard. Can repentance without change truly be called repentance? Can we see eternity at His feet when we clutch to our pride? The point has been and will always ever be Jesus Christ. When armed with God, the Son, and Holy Spirit, how can we not combat the evils around us? And what power surpasses Him? None.  

God’s Higher Standard

In Matthew 5. Jesus calls us to be better than the world. He says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever releases one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (17-20 ESV). Moses laid out the laws in the Old Testament. Jesus made it so much harder to keep to God’s law with what he said in the text following verse 20. As sinful creatures, we cannot possibly keep God’s law 100% of the time. That’s where Jesus swoops in and covers us. We are held to this higher standard, but He paid the price when He died on the cross and rose from the grave.

It is infinitely more important to know and accept that Jesus died for us than it is to keep to the old covenant. That is not to say that following the standards laid out for us throughout scripture is not important. On the contrary, it is very important. But Jesus is the WHOLE point. His sacrifice was the fulfillment of prophecy and He is the only doorway to the Father’s kingdom. So don’t you think Jesus Christ is absolutely more important than… well, anything? I’d say so!

Ah, but we live in the world. We have social media and magazines emphasizing toxic self-image. Have we considered the damage things like Photoshop and SnapChat filters have done to our self-esteem? We hear we are not good enough. We hear that we aren’t smart, pretty, whatever enough. These are distractions. Were we not worth the Son of God dying for us? (The answer is yes. Yes, we were and are.) We are better than the world because we stand on the side of righteousness. We stand on the side of the highest standard – God’s standard – and so our individual shortcomings really pale beside the awesome might of our Holy Father.

And yet, we human animals constantly disregard this in favor of the standards we find in the world If we are great at our jobs, we can earn that bonus or higher salary. If we are pretty enough, we can attract that new romantic partner. If we are quick enough, we can get to the store for that last roll of toilet paper. Because the world has its own standard, we lose sight of God’s standard. Ever is the power of rationalization as present as it is when we have another bill to pay. God’s commandments don’t carry the same weight when we have to scramble to make end’s meet just to keep the air conditioning running another month. How about when we have seen loved ones abused by those who should look out for their well-being? The world says we can achieve any dream, but really, most people are merely looking to get by.

We forget the Lord is still with us. He tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Brothers. Sisters. I tell you this. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). God has not abandoned us. This world is our testing ground. Until our last breath, we shall find things to distract us from the higher standard that comes by living a Christ-based life. Time will chip away at tour dedication. Not always with that devil on our shoulder either. No, more often than not, it will come in perceived necessity and when all cards appear stacked against us.

Have faith. Recenter daily. Pray for direction. And above all, remember that Jesus Christ died for us, so we do not have to live the proverbial checklist. Just accept Him and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Because God’s standards are worth banking eternity on.

When We Do More Harm

Trigger warning: This is directed to people who fall under the “Christian” label.

  • “Do you know Jesus in your life?”
  • “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”
  • “Who is Jesus to you?”

At some point in our lives, we are asked a variation of those questions. Often, they are meant to initiate conversations between nonbelievers and Christ-followers. Sometimes, they are conversations between fellow Christ-followers. These dialogues can prove quite fruitful and to be sure, the conversation must start somewhere. We’ll touch on the positive interactions another time. For now, let’s talk about when Christians do more harm than good, though they mean well. It is a hard pill to swallow, but often, peoples’ issues with Christianity is not Jesus, but the people professing faith in Him.

But first, who does Jesus say He is?

  • Luke 22:70 – Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
  • John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
  • John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jesus didn’t- and still doesn’t- need help to tell who He is. We know he came to our mortal earth to not only take the burden of our sin by dying on the cross, but to defeat the grave three wonderful days later. Jesus is the blameless Son of the Most High God, part of the Holy Trinity- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Jesus knows who He is. 

But do we? Moreover, are we confident in our knowledge of who He is? That is the personal question each person must answer for themselves. Let’s make certain assumptions about mindsets to provide a general baseline to proceed upon. To us- us being the average Christian- acceptance of the following is necessary.

  • Jesus is the Son of God.
  • Jesus is God.
  • Jesus came to die for us, to take on the mantle of sin, as payment for our sins.
  • Jesus is the only way to the Father.
  • Jesus rose from the grave, thereby defeating it.
  • Jesus is blameless.

Now that we have this baseline, let’s talk about a few items where many of us indicate room for improvement.

Item 1: No one’s relationship with God is more exalted than another’s.

Pride is sinful. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 16:18 also says, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” James 4:16 states, “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” We Christ-followers don’t always get it right. But we all fall short of the Glory of God. All of us. If we were perfect, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down to us, endure the crucifixion, and then return from the grave. So, we all have testimonies and none of them are the same. In fiction, it’s said that there are around 7 storylines or themes that exist, and that all stories are variations of one of at least one of the 7. How many human beings are on this planet? A lot. Each of us has a story. That story transforms into testimony when we take up the battle garb that is Christ. In that each is unique, it is also the same. It is a convergence on the single doorway: Jesus.

Even after we choose to follow Him, we’re still plagued by this sinful world. We still stumble. We still doubt from time to time. We’re imperfect creatures. But within the Christian community, there are some who exalt their stories, who make their walk with God seem much more profound than those around them. They call the doubts and another person’s walk with Him immature or foolish. Have you heard or experienced something like this? Let’s look at an example.

A young woman, single mother, survivor of spousal and familial abuse, has seen her life turn around in the last year. She grew up in church, but fell away for about 5 years. A year ago, she felt God speaking in her life again. She started going to church, has gotten involved, and interacts with people about her faith with increasing frequency. One night, she has a conversation with a longtime, Conservative, female churchgoer. The older woman asks her, “Who is Jesus to you?” The younger woman answers, using her past suffering and her recommitment to reinforce that Jesus is her salvation. She does not delve as deeply into scripture, does not have verse and passage to reinforce what she’s saying. The other does not like this answer. The longtime churchgoer, thinking she is meaning well, over-saturates the conversation with items to make the younger woman’s story seem childish, not as profound as the long-time churchgoer’s because she has more questions.

Sometimes, we forget that God wants all of us in His corner. We do more damage and honor Him less by making our walk seem more righteous than someone else’s. Look, we all misinterpret the Word sometimes. And we’re all at different points on our walk. We can never learn enough from God. There will always be more He can teach us. But, some of the specifics of what each of us needs to learn aren’t the same as the next person.

Item 2: Humans are not perfect. No Christian is perfect.

Think on your experiences with church. How many of us have seen those perfect people, who always seem to serve God the best way, who never seem to struggle with their faith, who always are on their p’s and q’s? Their perfection is an illusion. And if we’re focusing on this, then our focus is on the wrong things. God is the focal point. Not the people in his congregation. Sure, we want examples of how to live a holy life.  That’s natural. But, we’re disregarding a rather important fact. If we acknowledge that no one is perfect- Jesus has been identified as the only perfect being- then, by extension, no Christian can be perfect.

Side note: In Christ, we are made perfect. I am referring to the impossibility of worldly perfection.

We can make our faith look good. Sure, we’ve seen too many television shows about makeovers to not believe this. Following God is not about making any part of ourselves look good. It’s about revering and adhering to our Lord. When we fixate on the aesthetics of our faith, we risk replacing the importance of truly humbling ourselves to Him. We also do damage to the Church because we’re magnifying our hypocrisy. What if I told you that every single one of us is a hypocrite? We want to be as like Jesus as we possibly can; yet, we constantly fall short. If we didn’t fall short, we wouldn’t need Him. We get it wrong. We say the wrong thing. We make ourselves ugly, in appearance and soul, at times.  I could go on about how this does damage to our task of seeking disciples for Jesus, but what about to those who are already part of the flock?

There are two sides to the problem. Let’s start with those who are fixating on those who seem like they’re perfect Christians. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Everyone’s backgrounds are unique to them. Sure, there are a myriad of similarities, but there are also just as many differences. That’s good. God uses all of us. He uses our unique skillsets to serve His purpose. When we fixate on those who seem to do it better, we are shifting focus from serving God and worshipping Him, to creating a sort of idol in our fellow Christian. We do not know what goes on in their head. We do not know if they are truly following Him or wearing a mask. The second side of the problem is the people who attempt the illusion of perfection. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anyone to not attempt to be the best version of themselves as possible. I’m merely pointing out that the illusion of perfection is not sustainable. Thousands of years later, Jesus’s perfection is still sustainable. Know why? Because it is not an illusion of perfection. It is absolute perfection. When we are more focused on how we present ourselves, we lose sight of Him. It undermines our walk with God. It undermines our ability to guide others to the flock, because we become less human and more hypocritical monsters.

So, how do we fix this? I could share verse after verse with you. Instead, just look back at who Jesus said He is. Because when it comes down to it, when we put too much of ourselves in it, to the point where others leave the Church or don’t come to Jesus, as byproducts of our own actions, we’re doing more harm to His Church.

Let’s change that. Let’s encourage each other’s walk, offering guidance where it is truly needed, and put a lot less of who we want God to be and lot more of who He tells us He is.

On Ruth: Our blessings

So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Ruth 2:11

Haven’t we all asked this question- in some manner- at various points in our lives? Haven’t we regarded our circumstances with unease and skepticism? Who am I Lord? What have I done? Even, is this a trick? How about, what’s the catch? Human beings tear themselves and each other down. Accepting God’s blessings is not always easy.

Let’s look at some scripture about blessings:

  • Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it
  • Exodus 23:25 – And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water, and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.
  • Luke 6:22 – Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the son of man’s sake.

As children, we are taught that what we have is what we earn. We earn good grades by studying and investing energy in our education. We earn paychecks by showing up and completing the job we were hired to do. We earn extra credit or bonuses. But can we earn God’s blessings? The answer we came up with depends on our understandings of God.

Point 1: We do not deserve God’s blessings.

In Ruth 3:10-11, Boaz told Ruth, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.” Ruth toiled in the fields to help feed Naomi and herself. Now, if you’ll remember, Ruth was a widow from Moab who really did not have any perceived value. Even her mother-in-law had wanted Ruth to return home. Quite plainly, there was no way she could have earned the blessings she received through her own merits.

God does not create a value system for us to earn His grace. Rather, it is absolute submission and obedience to Him or we are set apart from Him (i.e. the separation of the Nonbeliever). God does not bless us because we have proven faithful. He does not reward us because we go through the Son to get to Him. Those are expectations placed on us. If we are to follow Him, the only reward- if you will- that we can expect is that our sins are no longer weighed against us because we have turned the bill over to Jesus. We do not deserve this, but have been given it all the same.

All things are meant for the glory of God. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬). We are called to love Him, to accept what He sends us, whether they be- to our estimation- trials or benefits.

Point 2: We must change our perceptions of glory.

Since we cannot earn the Lord’s blessings, why do we receive them? Surely not because of our service to Him. Surely, not because we have gifts intrinsic to ourselves. God takes care of His flock. His blessings are sometimes hard to bear. His blessings are meant to forge us into what best serves His glory. We are on this earth to make disciples, to bring more souls to His flock.

When we look at our blessings, we must alter our perception. When we think about it, we envision happy things: a raise, an unexpected bonus, a book deal… so much. These are happy things. What about the times we lose? What about the times we lose our jobs? Where we go through the suffering? When events just do not go according to how we are expecting? All things to the glory of God.

God’s blessings are more than good or bad. Let’s look back at Ruth. She toiled in the fields, going behind the reapers to pick over the leftovers. Bare scraps. She tried to take care of Naomi. She struggled to take care of a woman who would have abandoned her. But God blessed her. Ruth’s is the bloodline that lead to David. Remember whose bloodline involves David? Jesus. God blessed her. He blesses us too.

By accepting our circumstances, whether good or bad, we start to see that God works through everything. He guides our circumstances to work towards His own designs. So, it does not matter. It is not a trick. There is no catch.

On Ruth: Suffering

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lover for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Our Father in heaven never promised an easy life. Time and time again, his flock are reminded that to seek Christ, to go through the Son to get to the Father, is a demanding, often overwhelming path. Quite honestly, it is meant to forge Christian men and women into that which can best serve God’s glory. And you know what? That’s not even close to being an easy Crucible to run through.

Snapshot: Single parent juggles multiple part or full time jobs to make ends meet, put food in their children’s bellies, and weigh out which bill can be paid late.

Snapshot: Man loses his wife, children, and house in an accidental fire. Insurance says. “Sorry, but there just isn’t enough coverage.” He’ll have to find a bed to lay his head as he struggles to understand why he didn’t perish with everyone else.

Snapshot: Young man sits in an otherwise empty cell because he lost control for just a moment. Now, he’s potentially facing a lifetime behind bars or, at the very least, one full of guilt because of a mistake he can’t take back.

Every single person, whether or not they believe in Jesus Christ, finds themselves walking a fine line between joy and suffering. As we are told in 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” I get it. Life can- and often does- suck. We’ve all heard the phrase “God never gives us more than we can bear.” If we are being honest, most of us don’t agree. Hey, we’re human. Life is tough. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16). Life is hard, but God is bigger than any burden. So it isn’t that he gives more than we can handle because He is much bigger than ALL our troubles.

A lot of times we, as Christians, look towards scripture for examples of suffering and God’s grace. There is Jesus, of course, and Peter, Joseph, David… pretty much everyone of note in the Bible is riddled with times of suffering. Reflect on this: Pointless suffering does not exist; rather, there is only suffering that should- if we allow it- draw us closer to God. Let’s take at Ruth for now.

A little context: the story of Ruth takes place during a volatile time for God’s children, the age of the Judges. Here are three important people to remember as we discuss the Story of Ruth.

  1. Naomi – the Israelite, Ruth’s mother-in-law, widowed, lost her children
  2. Ruth – Moabitess, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, dutiful. Faithful, pagan
  3. Boaz – family redeemer, good man, Israelite

Though not as important, we should also note the other daughter-in-law, Orpah.

At this time, there was a great famine in the land. Now, “when Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had came to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there” (Ruth 1:6).

Point 1: God is master over our calamity.

Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, so she would not be responsible for them anymore. Orpah, the second daughter-in-law initially came with them until Naomi commanded the women to turn back. We will get into Ruth’s response a little later, but for now, it’s important to note that Orpah obeyed.

Think of it this way. Moab can represent the world, which is complete with the things we know and are familiar with, regardless of if they are good or bad for us. At the time, Moab was afflicted by famine. And yet, there are familiarities to latch onto: families, the land Orpah had grown up in, even the known hardships. Naomi commanded the younger women to “Turn back my daughters; why will you go with me?…” (Ruth 1:11). It is important to note what Naomi said later in the passage when they tried to follow her. It is also important to note that Orpah did not initially want to leave. Naomi said, “No my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:!3). Even though she was determined to go home, she felt the Lord wasn’t on her side. This is a common thought Christians have when life isn’t going our way.

It’s easy to retreat back towards what we know, especially when we think God is against us. Remember the snapshots? Each scenario displays circumstances where the person could, as Naomi did, believe the Lord had set His might against them. A commonplace thing among humans is the propensity to wallow in the hurt. Oh sure, most people are absolutely justified in their hurt, but God commands us to turn it over to Him. 1 Peter 5:7 commands us to go about “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” Likewise, Psalm 55:22 states, “Turn your burdens over to the Lord, and he will take care of you…”

We must remember God holds dominion over all things. That includes the times when it feels life has stacked all the cards against us. Understand, because we are given free will, we can make the decision to separate ourselves from God. He lets us destroy ourselves (this does not mean He does not love us). Sometimes, the fall seems hopeless. Sometimes, where we fall is into a pit whose only escape is into a position we might not like or want.

Point 2: God pushes us forward on His terms.

Let’s go back to our snapshots really quick. The first is a woman struggling to survive in a life where she must choose between necessities. The second is a man who must start over after the most devastating events one can imagine, all with the compelling desire to surrender. The third… well, I think that’s pretty obvious. But going biblical, imagine the first as Naomi, the second as Job, and the third as Peter (remember when he cut the soldier’s ear off). God had purpose for their struggles. God did not abandon them to their hurts.

God cannot control our circumstances if He isn’t the supreme God. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but He’ll let us arrive at this conclusion if we want. But, we can also accept He is a benevolent father, guiding us through our troubles. We’re human and don’t always want our circumstances. Sure, they aren’t always ideal; we can choose, then, to handle them gracelessly- as Naomi did- or with class, as Ruth did, which we see in her entreaty at the end of the section. Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). She had every reason to turn back, as her fellow daughter-in-law did, to the world she knew. So many of us are like Orpah; we consciously accept trouble when it comes from waters we’re familiar with, instead of risking greater reward and maintaining faith. Ruth made the harder choice. She followed Naomi, despite the older woman’s desire for her to leave, to a future of unknowns, where there were not obvious outcomes. She did it and next time, we’ll look into what happened when the two women reached Judah.

For now, let me ask you this. Does your fear of present circumstances outweigh the trust you have in God’s plan for your life? Does your suffering foster a need for Him? Or, do you share Naomi’s sentiment that the Lord has gone out against you? Do you mirror Orpah’s actions and retreat to the world you knew? Leave it at the cross friends. Leave your cares to the Father. Life is hard, but God is so much bigger than anything you carry.

The Word and Glory

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness, he called Night. And the evening and the morning was the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

There is a beginning. We are provided the story in Genesis, starting with the very first verse. There is a beginning to the world, when God spoke His creations into existence. He spoke the light into existence. He spoke plant and animal life into existence. God spoke and, suddenly, humans existed. Genesis 1:27 tells us “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he Him, male and female created he them.” Fast-forward a few thousand years to the point mankind, whom the Lord formed in His image, needed Jesus to die on the cross as payment for the terrible price of our sins. We sinful creatures that we are, murdered His son to become the greatest gift we have never- and will never- deserved. And yet, he did it willingly.

Two thousand years have passed since the death and resurrection. The Christian faith has flourished, but has it kept the Lord and His son at the forefront of our hearts and minds? As much as I’d love to say yes, I’m not so sure the modern church has. To the average nonbeliever, the larger issue seems to be that many Christians exude hypocrisy as if it were an expensive cologne. Churches preach a sanitized faith and have transformed into a comfortable social organization where people can come to get their feel-goods and hallelujahs before returning to their regular weekly programming. But didn’t Jesus die for us? And didn’t He command us to get off our butts and make disciples of all nations?

Point 1: God’s word is power.

See, John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Have we stopped listening so completely that we think it’s okay to dilute what we, as members of His flock, are called to do? Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Where is the passive God who thinks His word a whimsical thing to ignore? The Lord is all-powerful. So when we are commanded to obey, why do we modify Him to suit our needs?

Because human nature is inherently sinful, natural inclination is to use our God-given gifts for our own purposes. A writer, without God at His rightful place, will often seek the elevation of his own personal status. Same for the musician. Same for the politician. Same for everyone and everything. God didn’t say we can’t- or won’t- do great things. Psalm 37:3 says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” Matthew 6:1 cautions “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

Point 2: Our glory is not God’s glory.

It’s easy to focus on what we contribute to the situation. We want to believe what we are good at is seen and given value by those in the world. The nonbeliever has heard Satan’s offer on the mount and foolishly taken what was offered. We build ourselves up, seeking higher station in life. Personal glory is not God’s glory. Nor is it lasting glory.

Our Lord allows for free will. We can choose to use our gifts and abilities to progress our own place. To be sure, God wants us to take care of our obligations. But we are commanded to “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase” (Proverbs 3:9). “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). So, using our God-given free will. Who do we serve? It began with the Word, which came from and is God. Does it not make sense that it ends with Him too? Our gifts- who we are when everything falls into place- are meant to exalt his glory. We pale in the face of His majesty.

Point 3: God’s word commands obedience.

Obedience is commanded of us. There is no justifiable excuse for not serving God’s kingdom. We can do great works- we should do them!- as long as we do them in His name. Not only that, but for His name. Human beings fall horribly short of deserving God’s grace. We do. And yet, has He not offered it anyway? Has the Father not granted us forgiveness as long as we come to Him through His son Jesus Christ? How could our own choices matter in the face of that kind of love? Serving ourselves only serves to separate us from the gift that is the suffering we endure because we follow Jesus.

If God deigned to place His perfect son on a cross, how can we justify anything less than absolute faith? How can we condone anything short of total submission? How can we believe He requires less than all we have to give? How can we believe He won’t hold us accountable for seeking our own fame? We can’t. I’ll say again. We cannot.

Choosing the Extraordinary: Intentional Faith

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” Across hundreds- perhaps thousands- of years, human beings have struggled to accept God’s purpose in their lives. Comfortable faith has become the new norm. Jeremiah 10:21 states, “For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord: therefore the have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.” A common problem facing the modern Christian is the tendency to gravitate towards watered down faith. It isn’t cool to believe in Jesus, but if we’re going to, let’s not offend anybody. Here’s the thing, Jesus came to earth for a purpose.

Point 1: Jesus is the ONLY doorway.

John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” 1 John 2:23 tells us, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” To put it bluntly, if you believe as these verses indicate, it means all other belief systems are wrong. By its nature, this will offend people. It must. If all can go their own way and enter heaven on their own merits, then Jesus is not the door. There is no point to His death if that’s the case. If Christianity’s claim that Jesus is God’s son, who was sent to earth to pay the debt we owe for our sins, and conquer death is simply untrue, then it is a pointless reason to cause offense. Conversely, if its claim is true then the reason to offend is infinitely more important. Important and an unavoidable necessity.

As easy as it would be to do so, Christ followers cannot remain unobtrusive. We cannot linger in the shadows, where it is safer to pretend ignorance. When the world overwhelms us with bills, sensory stimulation, carnal intrigue, and any number of reasons to obey, it is easy to forget that it is horrible to gain the world at the cost of eternal separation. Yes, the world gives many reasons to believe in it. Some things are worth putting your belief in; however, none are equal to God. Jesus is the only doorway. John 14:6 reminds us that Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Acts 4:12 also says, “And there is salvation no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There is no compromise. Jesus isn’t the doorway for some, but other people may circumvent . No, since Jesus is the ONLY door, ALL who deny Him are turned away

Point 2: Choosing Jesus is a transformative decision

Charles Spurgeon once said, “From the Word of God I gather that damnation is all of man, from top to bottom, and salvation is all of grace, from first to last. He that perishes chooses to perish, but he that is saved is saved because God has chosen to save him.” Spurgeon also said, “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him.” When we choose to allow the extraordinary in our lives it is a conscious decision. There is nothing accidental about choosing to believe Jesus is God’s son and holds the way to our salvation. Proverbs 3:5-6 states “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding: 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” We must not remain stationary. To believe completely in Jesus is to move. Isaiah 55: 6-7 says, “6 Seek ye the Lord whole he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” You cannot choose this extraordinary gift and not accept the wonderful transformations in store. His love is the seed, that sprouts roots which lend infinite strength. We hold to our sins because we are flawed creatures, but his grace wipes the board clean each time we honestly seek to repent. We all start where the cards are stacked against us. We are repugnant with a lifetime of sins. There are sins we, as flawed humans who want to feel less dirty than others, find more deserving of God’s wrath. However, the Father abhors all sin. He sent the most blessed gift to us. We must choose to accept if we are to touch glory. We must choose, intentionally and without hesitation, to permit God’s love to transform us.

Point 3: Extraordinary is the ONLY way. And we must move!

As Rich Mullins sang, “Our God is an awesome God” so, too, should we cry out His wondrous existence. He is not a mediocre god. He isn’t an impersonal God who watches from some sky bound throne. He is in every blade of grass and every babe’s loveable grin. He blows on the fire within our souls, fanning the righteous flame. There is the Great Commission, where we are required to carry Him to every tribe. This world is His. We are His. Everything required of us- Christian men and women- is extraordinary. Mark 16:15 says, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and peach the gospel to every creature.” Additionally Roman’s 10:15 states “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”  We are not called to stand still. We are called to share the gospel with the rest of the world. Wouldn’t you say that’s extraordinary?