Once I preferred laptops, but since the advent of Android and Apple tablets, I migrated back to the desktop PC. When attempting to accomplish work, there is something to be said for sitting at a dedicated workspace to help productivity. Even so, I usually choose desktop wallpaper to reflect my interests from the religious to whimsical. My capricious nature typically ensures that wallpaper is changed frequently.
One day after having selected an artist’s rendering of the Christ wearing a crown of thorns for my wallpaper, I noted how I had allowed the desktop of my PC to become cluttered with icons and files. Though they made finding things more manageable, they obscured the image I had chosen for my inspiration. I had to do some cleaning so that I could once again see Christ!
Spiritually, I feel as if we sometimes equally “mask” the presence of the Christ in our lives. It is not our intention to do so, of course. We are just going about our regular business. Yet, there comes the point in out lives in which we begin doing what we feel is most convenient, despite what this “convenience” does to the presence of the Christ in our lies. Soon, others are unable to readily see the Christ in our lives since He has become obscured by our ephemera. If this persists, others will be unable to see Him at all.
When this happens, it is time to clean up or bring order to the chaos. One needs to put things in their proper place so that the image of Christ becomes accentuated rather than obscured (cf. Matthew 6.33). It may take a bit of work, but the effort is worth more than anything else in this world because of its eternal implications.
Dear reader, are others able to see the Christ in your life? If not, perhaps it is time for spiritual cleansing. The only thing equal to the task, great or small, is the blood of Jesus Christ. For the one having never clothed him or herself in Christ (Galatians 3.27), baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2.38). For the immersed believer, the blood of Christ continuously cleanses us as we walk in fellowship with Him and fellow Christians (1 John 1.7).
Check your image in the spiritual mirror (James 1.22-25). If you cannot see the Christ, rest assured others cannot see Him either. Let us always strive so others can see the Christ in us.
Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength
Raymond Burke, an American Catholic Cardinal serving in the Vatican, voiced his opinion about the novel coronavirus. He stated that one “cannot consider the present calamity in which we find ourselves without considering how distant our popular culture is from God.” He continued, “It is not only indifferent to His presence in our midst but openly rebellious toward Him and the good order with which He has created us and sustains us in being.” 1
Burke’s comments follow his observation that in times past when plagued by disease, people normally turned to God. Under our current circumstances of trying to mitigate COVID-19, however, we are forbidden from meeting in assemblies of more than 10 persons. Burke went on to say that our homes are “a little Church into which we bring Christ from our encounter with Him in the bigger Church.” Hence, he encouraged Catholics to pray.
From a purely doctrinal standpoint, I am unable to agree with Raymond Burke. Even so, I was struck by the quotation by him which I shared. Right now, we are isolating ourselves from one another to prevent the spread of a virus. Yet, people have been keeping themselves distant from God for years. And not only do they seek to stay distant from God, but they also promote an environment that seeks to distance others from Him as well. Burke sighted those sins like abortion and the perversion of God’s design for sexuality as proof of this distancing from God. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with that thought.
Yet, it is not just those sins that cause people to become distanced from God. For example, in Isaiah 59, Isaiah reminded those people in a covenant relationship with God under Moses’ Law that God was separated from them by their hands defiled with blood, fingers defiled by iniquity, lips speaking falsehoods, and tongues muttering wickedness (3). He further stated they conceived mischief and brought forth iniquity (4). He said their feet ran to evil (7). Consequently, they made crooked paths for themselves, which deprived others of peace when they traveled upon them (8). Frankly, modern America sounds no different.
And what was the consequence of being distant from God? Isaiah began by saying that God had become separated from them which prevented Him from hearing their prayers or helping them (1-2). Justice was far from them and despite their hope for light, they were ensconced in darkness (9). Indeed, the Israelites were blind men groping along the wall and stumbling during the day as though it were night (10). They were compared to dead men (10). Truly, without God people are in a terrible position.
During this pandemic, I have noted more references to God on television. As I’ve heard the discussion of our mental health during this crisis, even news commentators have lauded the role of faith in preventing people from despairing. After all, hope is an anchor. Vice President Mike Pence, in commenting about the deaths from the coronavirus, quoted from 1 Thessalonians 4.13 that we do not grieve like those who have no hope. 2 As refreshing as all of this is, I am afraid that it smacks of waiting until the house has burned down to call the fire department.
If we truly want for God to bless us individually, as the church, or to bless our secular nation, we cannot afford to practice social distancing from God. We must allow for the only name given under heaven among men that saves (Acts 4.12) be always on our lips as we preach and teach to our neighbors (Matthew 28.19-20).
1 Chapman, Michael W. “Cardinal Burke: Consider Virus in Light of ‘Actual Sins,’ Abortion, Gender Theory.” CNSNews.com, Media Research Center, 27 Mar. 2020, 15:36, www.cnsnews.com/article/international/michael-w-chapman/cardinal-burke-consider-virus-light-actual-sins-abortion.
2 Foust, Michael. “’We Do Not Grieve Like Those Who Have No Hope,’ Pence Says of Pandemic during Easter.” ChristianHeadlines.com, Salem Web Network, 9 Apr. 2020, www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/we-do-not-grieve-like-those-who-have-no-hope-pence-says-of-pandemic-during-easter.html.
Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Growing up, I heard my dad preach a sermon comparing different type of shoes to various people’s religious attitudes. You can imagine the application of such shoe types as the slipper, the loafer, the work boot, the Sunday shoe, the combat boot, etc. It was a clever illustration to encourage everyone to live a faithful Christian life and avoid a mentality that hurts the church.
Do you have a favorite kind of shoe? I’d venture to guess that you even have a favorite pair or couple of pairs of shoes. Usually, you’ll find me either in a pair of cowboy boots or in a pair of running shoes. What goes into why you favor a pair of shoes? Quality? Style? Comfort?
To make a spiritual point by referring to footwear is more ancient than my dad’s efforts to do so. No less than the apostle Paul referred to “having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). Indirectly, Isaiah and Paul give attention to this very idea by complimenting the “beautiful feet” of those who bring good news of good things (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).
You would think, to borrow dad’s analogy, that some “shoes,” figuratively, shouldn’t be adorned as part of our Christian armor. Flip-flops aren’t good (Jas. 1:8). Neither are skate shoes (Rom. 12:11; Col. 3:23). Camouflage boots can be a liability (Rom. 12:2). It would seem counterproductive for a preacher or teacher to favor tap dancing shoes (2 Tim. 4:3), since our responsibility is to stand firm (Eph. 6:11,13,14).
Staying with the analogy, some shoes are excellent if used according to their design. Running shoes are essential to running the Christian race (1 Cor. 9:24,26; Heb. 12:1), but not to run in vain (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16), run with sinners to sin (1 Pet. 4:4), or run after false teachers (Luke 17:23). Work boots can be misused in prioritizing occupation and career over the kingdom, but when used in the exercise of our talents and resources to grow the kingdom they are worn well (Mat. 5:16; 9:37-38).
You get the idea, and you can no doubt add to the analogy with your own ideas. But, spiritually, what is your favorite pair of shoes? John the Baptist suggests that Jesus, like most all others of His day, wore sandals (Mark 1:7). John felt unworthy to even untie them. Yet, Peter, later on, would say “follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Jesus’ shoes carried Him to Samaria to minister to the woman at the well. They presumably walked on water. They took Him to Lazarus’ tomb. He doubtless wore them as He ascended the mountain to preach the greatest sermon ever delivered. Was He permitted to wear them as He carried His cross to Calvary?
We aren’t qualified and worthy to be in His shoes, but, as the song suggests, we must be “trying to walk in the steps of the Savior.” Another hymn avers, “Where He leads me, I will follow.” Our favorite shoes should be the ones revealing the footsteps of Jesus. We follow Him and anyone can follow us (1 Cor. 11:1). They will help us walk in good works (Eph. 2:10), in a worthy manner (Eph. 4:1), in love (Eph. 5:2), and carefully (Eph. 5:15).
Some years ago an AP wire report yielded this incredible, true story. Apparently a dirty joke was sent by a company employee to 6,000 people! What was so unusual? The perpetrator, intending to send a daily report to reporters and government officials, was a federal communications commission employee! The headline read, “Joke Is On The FCC” (via Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/9/99). The FCC, charged with setting decency limits on various media outlets, was guilty of that which they are employed to prevent. Ironic!
The jokes abound. Plumbers have the worst pipers. Electricians have the faultiest wiring. Doctors are the sickest people. Preachers’ kids get in the most trouble. They learn it from the elders’ kids. While these are more axiomatic than true, there are guilty plumbers, electricians, doctors, preachers, elders, lawyers, politicians, and the like out there. They get such attention because they fail at that which is supposed to epitomize and characterize them!
Christians become Christians through grace and obedient faith (Eph. 2:8-10). But Christianity is more than a state of being. It requires certain characteristics to be in one’s life. A Christian is part of a spiritually “chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation” and is a person “for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). Moreover, a Christian is one redeemed from all iniquity, purified unto himself, and zealous of good works (Ti. 2:14). A Christian is one who has put fleshly deeds to death (Col. 3:5). A Christian takes on “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), which means assuming a code of conduct and disposition of heart that is clear before the world’s eyes (Matt. 5:14-16).
There is an irreconcilable irony when a Christian is indistinct, indifferent, immoral, and inconsistent! Like salt without taste, a Christian who dresses, talks, and behaves like a worldly person cannot be properly used by God (cf. Matt. 5:13). A Christian without ethics, morality, honesty, and integrity is a walking oxymoron. A Christain who talks one talk and walks another makes no sense and draws no following, at least none leading to Christ (cf. John 12:32; 1 Cor. 11:1).
Will the “Great Report” reveal that we, as Christians, spoke and showed the saving message or the wrong message? What message are we sending to others? Let it not be the irony of wearing a name we are not honoring.
Quick. Name the top three accomplishments of Grover Cleveland’s presidency. I’ll wait.
Nothing? Don’t feel dense or unpatriotic. He’s not in most historians’ top 10 (25?) of American presidents. But on yesterday’s date, 132 years ago, he was at the helm and dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. This, if you don’t recall, was the proposed gift of French historian Edouard de Laboulaye in honor of America’s alliance with France during the Revolutionary War, sculpted by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, designed by Viollet-le-Duc and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), completed in France in 1884, and delivered to America the next year with the last rivet fitted on October 28, 1886 (via Instagram). The pedestal of the statue contains a sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus, well-known to most of us, that reads,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door” (ibid.).
With all the debate about immigration–a Reuters story revealed that immigration tops the economy and healthcare as the top issue for voters (Read here)–there is no denying why so many people around the world want to come to the United States. We have long been regarded as the haven for poor masses yearning to breathe free and wanting a home inside “the golden door.” Many have come and achieved incredible success in our country. Many more than that have come to find that immigrating here did not solve their problems or make their dreams come true.
There is a greater longing of the soul, a desire for something even more than prosperity. Jesus teaches us that material things won’t last (Mat. 6:19-20). Peter tells us what comes of such ultimately (2 Pet. 3:10).
There is a greater longing of the soul than even freedoms afforded by nations and governments. Many will abuse those freedoms through immoral choices. Proverbs 14:34 strongly applies.
The most noble, highest longing of a soul is for the freedom only Christ can provide. To be free from the slavery of sin (John 8:31-36), from guilt of sin (Psa. 51:1-14), and from the power of sin (Heb. 2:14) is man’s wisest quest. A person with an abundance of money, liberty, and other earthly advantages may still be buried by the influence of sin. To know there’s a solution right now–who wouldn’t want that?
Don’t forget what Jesus tells people everywhere: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).
Now, not all our attenders are members,
And not all our members are attenders,
But if all our attenders were members,
And all our members were attenders
We’d have more trouble menders,
More gospel defenders,
And more true soul-winners!
We’d have fewer people offenders,
Fewer spiritual hinderers,
And fewer religious pretenders!
Let us all render a more tender surrender
To the Commander of a love full of splendor!
As we meander on this earth full of sinners,
Let us engender a life with the Lord at the center.
This week has reaffirmed a fundamental view I have about youth. It has been affirmed by what I see in our youth group, but it is bolstered by what I have seen in so many young people this week. Hearing youthful voices singing whenever they found an opportunity, I thought about how hopeful I felt for the church’s future as these beautiful voices blended in heartfelt song. Our world is growing more vile and wicked each day, but I have bathed in a spiritual oasis this week. It led me to think about how much hope we rest on the future of the church, but how much we should.
My hope for our youth is that they will develop their own faith. Some of those youth I speak of were converted, but many more are the product of Christian homes and heritages that go back for generations. Apathy and indifference can infect our youth who go through motions they have been taught but which have not been internalized. As one in that latter category myself, I found that a challenge I faced as a youth. I want our youth to grow a conviction and belief system founded upon the rock solid nature of God and His Word.
My hope for our youth is that they will maintain their purity. The aforementioned world is bombarding all of us with insidious messages. On every hand, the devil tempts us to let go of holiness. With so many ways to “get in,” I pray our youth will lock the door of their heart when evil is on the stoop.
My hope for our youth is that they will have proper examples in us. How heavily this point hits home! So much of what we hope for our youth begins, continues and ends with our impact upon them. They will be, in large part, the product of our training, what we emphasize, value and show to be important, and what our passions and priorities are. They will have great difficulty rising above what we model before them!
I certainly hope so much more for them, but in all of this my hope is that whatever peril or persecution they must face in the years to come they will be faithful even to the point of physical death. But I believe in them! They have showed me so much now, and faith is built before the storms of life come.
Most of us are familiar with the intimate words spoken by Jesus to His followers in John 14:1-6. They were words of active comfort for a man who was imminently facing the worst suffering humanity could ever know. Yet, from those gentle words of guidance, we find a beacon to show us what kind of life it is possible for us to live—no matter what!
We can live a fearless life (John 14:1). Our hearts don’t have to be troubled. That doesn’t mean we won’t face fears and uncertainties. How can we avoid it? But we can let our fears be subjugated to our Father. We can trust the Bible’s promises and follow its guidance on this (cf. John 14:27; Phil. 4:7).
We can live a faith-filled life (John 14:1b). A “theocentric” (God-centered) point of view will influence our decision-making and daily living. We can have assurance and conviction (Heb. 11:1), but we must have a faith accompanied by works of obedience (Js. 2:20). All of us have lives centered around something that we make most important of all. There are many noble things that could fill in that blank—profession, family, friends, or the like. These may be part of our identity, but they should not define us. Our faith should define us.
We can live a focused life (John 14:2-4). Jesus urges His disciples to focus on at least three things:
- Focus on the Father’s house (2). Long for heaven.
- Focus on the Son’s coming (3). Anticipate His return. We know death is an appointment followed by the Judgment (Heb. 9:27).
- Focus on God’s fellowship (4). Long to be where God is and to follow where He leads. Let that desire lead you to fellowship with Him and His saints publicly and privately in your personal devotional life.
We live in a world full of distractions—technology, appointments, hobbies, politics, and sports. Never let any of those things get your life out of focus.
We can live a follower’s life (John 14:6). We must believe that Jesus is the only way. We must shun the politically-correct notion that says there are many ways. We must live the exclusive way that Scripture teaches. We cannot serve God on our own terms. We must submit to His way and His truth, and we can enjoy the eternal life He offers.
Fame, fortune, fun, friendship, and such may draw and lure us. But none of those things will last. Jesus points to the kind of life we should live. May we be wise enough to listen.