Saturday, April 20, 2024


What we choose has an impact on what we become. Every choice we make has ramifications one way or another.

Genesis 1:26 says “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”” The authority to rule equals the power to choose. It is ultimately God's will that we have a choice. Let’s face it, humanity has not always been responsible with said authority and made many ungodly choices. As Christian philosopher Dallas Willard put it. “The whole history of God and man recounted in the Bible is the story of God wanting to entrust men with his power, and men not being able to handle it.” The questions we should ask ourselves are, why have we not been able to handle it, and what can we learn from those who came before us? So we can make better choices ourselves. For one, we must understand the real issue.

Romans 7:15-25 says “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”
While making the right choice should be cut and dry, we have a way of making it difficult. Mainly because our own nature will often lead us to defy our better judgment time and time again. We often choose preferences over principle, pride over purity, feelings over facts, sentiment over spirit, the exact opposite when we feel like we are not given a choice, and just about anything else other than faith. The previous passage proves that scripture acknowledges this struggle within our nature. Even when we don’t acknowledge this reality when judging the choices of others that seem so simple from the outside looking in.

1st Corinthians 6:12
““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.”

While we like to think we are masters of our own choices, in many cases our choices end up mastering us. Especially when our willful choices are short-sighted, made in rebellious spite, and not particularly beneficial in the long term.

Consider what Jesus prayed just before being arrested. Luke 22:39-44
“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Even Jesus, in his flesh state, had to find the will to fulfill the will of God. So how much more will you? The takeaway is, that he has been where you have been. So he wants to be a part of your solution when faced with hard choices; when faced with your “cross.” But remember, Jesus needed help with his cross too. (Luke 23:26)

This leads us to Luke 9:23-25
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” The other gospels that quote this close with “forfeit their soul” rather than self. But the Luke version illustrates another struggle we have in making choices. What part of self are we to deny, and what part are we to not lose sight of? Where do we draw the line between losing our life, and saving it? How do we distinguish God's blessings, and the worldly things that distract us? What God created us to be, and what the world broke us into? One thing is for certain, historic discipleship was about being as much like the teacher as possible, what we often refer to as Christ-likeness. Perhaps our struggle lies in that we are too focused on the what, instead of the who. Let’s face it, most don’t choose a cross at all. We choose the treasures of the world.

Just as Matthew 6:19-21 says
““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” To store up treasures in heaven means to delay the reward, to have faith that it will be worth it in the end. Worth more than what this temporal world offers. Not a popular choice in our instant gratification culture.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
 After a very complex analysis, Solomon gives a seemingly simplistic answer to close his book. That God is the master of our fate. But do we truly understand God or his judgment? As I have said before, holiness is modeled after the very nature of God. To understand his commands is to understand him, and vice versa. However, it is so easy to interject a confirmation bias into our understanding of God. This is where things like emotion, preferences, sentiment, want, tradition, comfort, and convenience distorts our perception of God and his will. How we rationalize our less-than-righteous choices.

In the end, when decisions get hard we need to consider a few basic things as disciples. Does it glorify God and represent his truth? Or does it only serve our own comfort, selfish wants, and desires? As well as, how will my choices affect others? We often forget about that last one. We forget that what we do unto others is done unto God as well. (Matthew 25:40, 45) So we really cannot use God as an excuse to treat people terribly. Yet that choice happens all the time. This is a testament to why we need to act deliberately with our choices, instead of reacting recklessly with them. Clearly, our own nature can lead us to disgrace God in the name of righteousness if we are not careful and weigh our choices carefully. Remember, Jesus was an example-based teacher. Are we living up to that example with our choices?

The Visual PARABLEist

a man clutching an idol while staring at a cross.
Let's face it, most Christians don't answer the call to take up their cross, because they are too busy taking the road most traveled, that's paved with idols.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Gratitude is not passive

Salvation is a gift from God that’s bestowed by His Grace and Mercy. Our sincere gratitude for this maintains our heart

Ephesians 2:8-10

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— The moment you have to pay for something it’s no longer a gift.

not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is something to be thankful for, not prideful over.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” While works have nothing to do with salvation, they do have value in other areas. Since verse 10 is often left out when quoting this, we leave people thinking Christianity is a passive thing. Therein lies the heart of so many issues that the church faces today.

People often counterpoint this next passage with the previous one as a contradiction. Especially if they overlook verse 10. It’s a weak argument That is easily dismissed if you look beyond the mere surface.
James 2:14-26

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Faith is not meant to be passive.

Can that faith save him? A battery can save you if placed in the right device during an emergency, but it does you no good if it remains in the package.

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? This idea of helping the poor is constant throughout scripture, but it is a constantly neglected truth as well. Is this false idea that works have no value to blame for this oversight?

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. Like that proverbial flashlight that was made in advance to cast light into dark places. Without batteries, it cannot fulfill its purpose.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Faith is not some abstract concept you just put on a pedestal. That kind of passive faith won’t get you through the hard times.

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. I dare say you need to be more righteous than demons. (Matthew 5:20, 46-47)

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Even batteries waste away over time on the shelf.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? Abraham trusted God, even though he did not understand what was being asked of him and why.

You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. Would we even know who Abraham was if he had not perfected his faith like this? Would he have succeeded here, if he hadn’t failed previously? As I often say, today's success is built upon yesterday's failures.

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. Not saved but justified. What would our faith even be in, if we weren’t already saved?

In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? Even a harlot can be justified, if she acts in faith.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Where works without faith are empty and done more for self than God. We don’t buy our salvation through works, we do works because we are saved, and have faith in the one who saved us.

Isaiah 29:13

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
These words that also happened to be quoted by Jesus himself in Matthew 15:8-9 can be summed up in a single word, sincerity. We can debate the value of works until we are blue in the face, but does any of it change how we show our appreciation towards God. If we truly love God, if we appreciate his Grace, if we are thankful for his salvation, we certainly would want to show it somehow, some way. Sincerity turns commands we must fulfill into a genuine desire.

Gratitude is a big element of worship after all. Thanks to the new covenant, the sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus has been traded out for living sacrifice. As indicated in Romans 12:1. Meaning, it’s just as much about honoring God in our everyday lives, not just scripted rituals.

Works may not earn us salvation. But it shows gratitude towards God, it shows honor towards God, it expresses love towards God, it counts as worship towards God, and it also builds God's church. Again, a devoted disciple shouldn’t have to be commanded to do any of this. If they do, then they need to check their heart, because there is likely a fault in it.

As Romans 1:21 & 22 says “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” Are you passive in your gratitude towards God's salvation? Consider the ramifications of an ungrateful spirit: Foolishness, a futile mind, and a darkened heart. All from simply being a passive ingrate. 

A man offering a thank you note as an act of worship

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Firm foundation

Truth is the firm foundation on which our heart is rebuilt, but like most foundations, many elements must be properly put into place to make sure it’s strong and long-lasting.

2nd Timothy 3:14-17

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of,
because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
What makes you wise for salvation? Faith in the scripture that points to Christ. The scriptures that Timothy has engaged in since infancy. He is encouraged to continue in it because that is the first element of our firm foundation. Do you continue in it?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture trains and equips us for the work we are called for in God’s kingdom. Do you look at it that way, or do you get too focused on rebuking and correcting to notice you must rebuild after the demo?

2nd Peter 1:19-21

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. The message can cause the light to rise in our hearts, but we must pay attention to it. Do we look at it with the same awe and wonder as a rising sun?

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. Most people tend to project their own preferences and biases’ into everything. That’s why a true prophet needs to truly deny self and follow what divine inspiration is leading them to relay. We should follow their example and not sidestep uncomfortable details. Perhaps we should even look at points of confusion as a place to start.

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The origin of scripture is clearly stated here. From God, via the Holy Spirit. This is the second part of our firm foundation. Yet there seems to be a movement within certain sects of the church to view the Bible as the only Godly authority. Openly denying the Holy Spirit. Although scripture itself condemns such actions.

For example, 1st Thessalonians 5:19-22 says “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Apparently quenching the spirit is one of the evils we must reject. Jesus even called it blasphemy of the spirit. Yet we are also reminded to test the messages. That is why we ultimately need the Bible as a ruler to hold the spirits up to. Since the Holy Spirit isn’t the only voice.

Jesus also says in John 14:25-26 ““All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Herein lies the need for the Holy Spirit, how to apply truth, and when. The spirit can’t remind you of what you never read though. Jesus spent a good amount of time correcting the misapplication of scripture, and probably still would if he returned today. [See the sermon on the mount.] Let’s face it, those who quench the spirit tend to have selective memory with scripture. Only lifting up that which makes them look good, and feeds their pride. Which is a sin in and of itself. A sin that the spirit would likely convict them of if they knew him.

John 3:5-8

“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”” These words spoken to a curious Pharisee lie at the heart of why people resist the Spirit. We don’t like not being able to tell where it comes from or where it is going, and ultimately leading us. We like to feel like we are in control. Doesn’t this statement alone reveal where they are missing the point? Who are we to try and control God. But isn’t that just what we are doing when we are cherry-picking the truths we follow.

Yes, false teachers are misrepresenting the Spirit. But if we know our Bible, we can see right through them. But there are just as many false teachers misrepresenting scripture. They can get away with it because they know most people don’t read their Bibles. But if we have the Holy Spirit, he will instruct us on how to deal with such teachers.

I opened with the foundation analogy. Scripture would be the concrete, whereas the Holy Spirit would be the steel reinforcement. They ultimately work together to create the best possible foundation. You can’t see the steel, but without it, the foundation would crack and crumble very quickly. Just as if we didn’t pour the concrete, we wouldn’t have a stable and level surface to build upon. Make sure you have good subcontractors (ministers) because the home inspector is coming to make sure it’s up to code. (Jesus) So let me ask you this. If your knowledge of scripture, and relationship with the Holy Spirit is proportionate to your foundation, what could be built upon it? A large mansion, or just a tool shed?

a man trying to place support posts in shifting sand
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. -Mathew 7:26

Saturday, March 30, 2024


Since we interpret life according to the reality presented to us, we need divine guidance to truly live up to God’s will.

Isaiah 55:8-13
““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. While the statement may seem straightforward enough. Do we consider the ramifications of it? What we call logical, what we assume to be reasonable, the standard we filter everything through may very well be foolish in God’s eyes. If human nature could lead us to utopia, it would have achieved it by now, but we haven’t even gotten close. Remember that.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. While this statement may seem purely poetic, it also addresses his point of view. From heaven he sees everything. The broad picture that we don’t. He can see what’s on the other side of the mountain you want to cross. Not just here and now, but what will be there when you arrive. So he knows whether you should cross or not, or if he needs to intervene in your progress for optimal timing.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. The circle of nature is used as a comparison to God’s guidance. Cause and effect often has multiple layers to it. That he is often three steps ahead of us. There is sometimes a difference between knowing a path and following it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Going forward on your path in joy is different from being led in peace. Sure we are full of hope and faith in the beginning, but once we start walking it, we need to adopt a more focused task oriented state of mind. Is that why people get stuck? They crave the joy but forsake the peace. Not realizing that to walk that path in peace despite the obstacles, is a blessing in and of itself. That it leads to better places. Why else would even the obstacles of mountains, hills, and trees rejoice in the journey? Similar to the way Jesus states in Luke 19:40.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. The alternative to thorns and briars are both evergreens. Consider that symbolism.

This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”” We honor God and inspire the world by following his divine guidance in faith.

King David’s words of wisdom to the heir to his throne Solomon. Since guidance from those who went before us can be valuable as well.
1st Chronicles 28:8-9

““So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever. David urged his son to follow the way of holiness, as well as why that is important. In other words, be like God in thought and deed as we indicated last time.

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. God does not just know our thoughts, but the motives and intent behind them. His guidance must surely be Tailored by this. As indicated before, he considers the cause, not just the outcome.

If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” Notice the wording “He will be found by you” it is not a matter of looking in the right place, but looking with the right heart as the previous sentence indicates. If your intent is loyal, God will make himself and his guidance available, wherever you’re looking. (Isaian 30:31)

Remember, King David is speaking as someone who knows the consequences of not living up to said advice. We should seek the same when looking for mentorship. People can only guide where they have been after all. The person who only pretends to be perfect can only teach us to fake it as they do.

Mark 4:21-25
“He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Light is meant to illuminate your way in the dark, it cannot guide you when hidden away.

Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? Value the light, put it in a prominent place so it may guide your steps.

For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. Even if we can’t see the light from where we are. That does not mean it’s meant to be hidden from you. God wants all to see, and it will be revealed when the individual is ready to step out of the darkness and accept his guidance.

If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” I am reminded of the parent who yells “Will you LISTEN to me” at their child. This is Jesus’ more elegant and gentle way of saying that.

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. Jesus acknowledges that there are multiple voices out there trying to misrepresent God’s truth and mislead us.

“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Applying what we understand brings on more understanding. Knowledge is not meant to be a passive thing. Like we said last time, the spirit world is a multiplier.

Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”” Not only does he reiterate the idea that the more you obey, the more accurately you will hear, but he adds that disobedience blunts our understanding. So I reiterate as well, that knowledge is not passive.

It has been said knowledge does not necessarily mean understanding. Yet what we clearly see here is that the application of knowledge brings about better understanding. As it says in James 1:22-25

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

I see this passage quoted all the time, yet they often stop at verse 23 or 24 leaving out the blessing in verse 25. Applying it only as a command, not a promise made by Jesus himself of increased understanding.

So let me repeat the opening statement. Since we interpret life according to the reality presented to us, we need divine guidance to truly live up to God’s will. God gave us a map via his scripture, but there is a big difference between reading it and being guided by it. So often we wait until we understand before we will follow, but the reality is we may not be able to understand until we follow.

The Visual PARABLEist

A wounded man coming to mind as scripture is being read by someone without understanding

Saturday, March 23, 2024


What we focus on has a tremendous impact on our hearts, our spirit, and ultimately our future.

An interesting comparison is given in Matthew 6:22-24, if we take it literally one may think blind people are being dismissed. Clearly, this is not what Jesus is saying. So let’s look at it from a figurative point of view. Specifically how it relates to our focus.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. In the dark, we can only see as far as the lamp illuminates. Just as we can only see as far as we give our attention to. In many cases, people have their eyes pointed at what they are truly focused on. In other words, what catches our eye is essentially illuminated to us.

If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. If our focus is righteous, then the life we live will also be righteous. Or full of light as he puts it.

But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. It goes both ways, if our focuses are unrighteous, the life we live will become unrighteous, or full of darkness.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! I looked up what is meant by "great" in this context to be certain. “How great” in the original Greek, as I suspected refers to quantity not quality. How much darkness does it take to completely blot out the spark of life that is our soul? A great amount indeed.

“No one can serve two masters. This sentence is so associated with the following two that we often forget the broader implications of serving light versus serving darkness. God in his goodness cannot abide with us if we dwell in darkness. So focusing on darkness can by default make us a servant of darkness If we let it flow through our hearts, rather than simply trying to better understand what we are up against. Therein lies the caveat. Some take this to such an extreme we are clueless about who we are helping, and what we are helping them from. Making our outreach ineffective.

Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Our love and devotion cannot be split or watered down in any way. It is essentially spiritual adultery to think otherwise.

You cannot serve both God and money.” Jesus qualifies this idea with a very specific example, not that it only applies to this example. But it must have been a very common one back then, and let’s face it, it still is.

What you focus on you effectively worship.
What you worship you eventually become.

One does not have to engage in a formal ritual to worship something. One merely has to look to it as a source of hope, wholeness, and fulfillment.

If you look to the world or some specific aspect of it for that hope you will become more like it. We observe this with the worldly all the time.

While it’s easy to say that is why we need to worship and focus on God. But are we worshipping what we truly know fully? (John 4:22) Or only the parts of God we find favorable. For example, some worship only the hand of obedience and discipline. This is how they rationalize their judgmental arrogance, pride, and lack of humility. Some only worship the hand of love and forgiveness. This is how they rationalize their lack of righteousness and spiritual immaturity. Perhaps this is why scripture says to seek his face, not his hand. A poetic way of saying to seek who he is truly is as a living sentient being. Instead of just what we can get out of him. Holiness is modeled after his very character after all. (1st Peter 1:16) Hence by worshiping him completely, we become more like him. That is why we need to seek to understand him deliberately and with focus. Otherwise, we may end up worshipping a distorted picture in our head that isn’t truly God-like at all.

“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” -Psalms 105:4
See also 1st Chronicles 16:11, 2nd Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 24:6, 27:8, Hosea 5:15

The spirit realm is a multiplier, what we focus on is ultimately what we are multiplying?

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

It’s really easy to read the above verse and just dismiss it as flowery and poetic words and never really consider the implications. It says he can act in our lives. according to his power that works in us. Yet the language is not simply stating an X amount of effort, yields an X amount of result. The exact words are "immeasurably more." Is this what Jesus meant by “. . . Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” In Matthew 17:20b. Or “. . . The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” In Matthew 13:33b

It’s so easy to get fixated on the mountain before us. It can seem so daunting that we forget about the power we have behind us, what he really expects of us, and how little that really is in comparison to the actual mountain, and the God who multiplies our sincere actions.

So I close by asking you this, what are you truly focused on in this life full of distractions? What do you truly worship in a world full of virtual idols? What are those things ultimately multiplying for you?

The Visual PARABLEist

A man navigating the darkness with an illuminated scroll
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
-Psalms 119:105

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Cause & effect

Life will trigger your heart, causing you to respond in ways you never would have consciously chosen otherwise. Yet, if you choose to receive strength from God, you can take authority over what flows through your heart.

Triggers have been a big buzzword as of late. Highlighting the things that stimulate bad behavior. Yet it’s just another way of saying cause and effect, without completely acknowledging the cause side of it. This is problematic because all these “trigger warnings” are often just enabling people to dodge the problem, instead of dealing with it. The long-term goal is to eventually face them when ready, not forever run away from them. Proverbs 16:2 says, All a person's ways seem pure to then. But motives are weighed by the Lord. Other translations say weigh the spirit, rather than motives. Either way, God is focused on the cause more than the effect. So we should as well. Proverbs 20:27 also says “The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one’s inmost being.” The human spirit or the spark of life bestowed by God, that dwells within the heart, exposes us to God's light. The closer we are to him, the brighter it shines, exposing the faults within. Is this ultimately why we make it about trying to control our environment so it won’t trigger us, rather than focus on our heart at the source? We are avoiding God’s conviction, correction, and discipline; that we are responsible for. Not just the trauma done to us by others.

Let's look at a few verses and what they reveal about our relationship with cause, as well as their effects.

Matthew 12:33-37

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. What makes a tree good? Pruning, fertilizer, and a proper amount of water. What makes a tree bad? Disease, insect swarms, drought, neglect. Of course, he is not really talking about trees, he’s talking about us, what makes our hearts bad. We must consider what triggers our hearts as individuals. Seek God for the proper nutrients to make it whole again, so we can be fruitful again.

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? It just occurred to me that perhaps there is a reason why he refers to the Pharisees as a collective like this. Maybe because they had a bad influence on one another, and their agreement on doctrine created the illusion of it being legitimate theology. Bad fruit just reproduces more bad fruit.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. If you overfill anything, it will be prone to spillages, or overflow. Or easily triggered if you will. If you’re filled with toxic things. Your spills will be toxic.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. I am reminded of Paul’s words of “treasures in jars of clay.” (2nd Corinthians 4:7-12) Clay is a very Biblical symbol of humanity. We are virtual vessels, what we choose to store in ourselves matters.

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. The phrasing of “empty word” is curious. It’s not just reiterating the venomous things we say. It implies insincerity or disingenuous words. Like a shiny bright red apple that catches our eye. Yet is flavorless and mealy when we bite into it.

For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. As Jesus says elsewhere, it’s what comes out of our mouth that makes us clean or unclean. (Matthew 15:17-20) But as the previous sentence implies, it’s not just the words themselves that matter. Rather the intent and sincerity behind them. As Jesus also indicates in the referenced verse, that all begins in the heart.

Galatians 6:7-10

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. While planting good seeds may seem easy enough, but are we allowing weeds into the garden as well. God sees what we are truly planting. Is this what it means by "God can’t be mocked." That we like the unfaithful servant in the parable of the talents are making less than honest claims about our actions. He sees our true motives as we saw in Proverbs 16:2.

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. We won't know how to apply the spirit to the problem, instead of the flesh, If we don't truly understand the problem. Instead of just the surface effects.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Anyone can grow weeds, even with absolutely no effort at all. A good harvest takes time and effort. Hence the encouragement to put in the effort.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Doing good to others is apparently a way to sow good seeds. Are we guilty of making it all about ourselves? Are we harvesting for the good of everyone, or do we want to keep all the fruit to ourselves?

Sunlight and water can trigger seeds, that turn into plants. Yet sunlight and water alone can’t produce any fruit on its own. We also must be mindful and deliberate with our seeds, otherwise they can be overrun by weeds.

James 1:13-15

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” One has to wonder if this was an issue during the apostolic era for him to phrase it like this. Their version of triggering if you will. So James is warning us about shifting the blame from the actual cause.

For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Look within yourself for the root of the problem. God should be sought for solutions rather than blame.

Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Temptation leads to desire, and indulging the desire leads to sin. And so on. While we don’t always have control over what temptations come our way unless we want to live in a monastery. There is still that grey area between temptations and sin. What James calls desire. This is where we need to step up and respond deliberately, rather than hastily. Yet sometimes it's a desire that puts us into temptations sights in the first place. The tiniest frustrations can often direct our thoughts toward immediate gratification. This is where we need to stop, drop, and roll to stamp out that fire of desire.

Triggers are like fuel, without an ignition source they won’t burst into flames. So in a similar way, a person without the right ignition source will not be as easily ignited as someone with multiple ignition points within. So we can’t just put all the blame on the fuel as the world does. As a disciple, do you make excuses for your failures, and avoid facing the problem.  When you should own, explore, and deal with them with God’s strength?

a man walking through a field of shards with his eyes closed.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

How will you Respond?

The consistent outcome of life is determined by what is allowed to flow through the heart. Over time, what happens to me is far less significant than how I respond to what happens to me. While on the surface the previous statement may seem overly obvious. Still, there are some common errors in applying this truth. So let’s go over some of them so we can be more conscious about our heart flow and Christian walk.

Thinking someone else being in the wrong entitles us to anger. While we can and should reevaluate relationships when betrayals happen. Allowing bitterness to flow through us, regardless of the circumstances will always harm our spirit. Which will spill out into our actions, and affect our outcomes. as it says in the NASB version of Ephesians 4:26-27. “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” An opportunity to embitter your heart by inspiring you to hold anger in it for far too long.
Assuming a righteous life is always an easy life. This is more about what we want to believe to be true. Our ignorance of this subject has led to much doubt. Many who have believed this have left religion assuming it must be false since it clearly doesn’t work that way. Never realizing scripture acknowledges this incongruence in Ecclesiastes 8:11-13. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of mankind among them are fully given to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will go well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not go well for the evil person and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.” Or as King Solomon says in the chapter before in 7:14. “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” Our response should be of careful consideration, instead of jumping to juvenile conclusions. This leads to our third point.
Assuming God is only concerned with our behavior. Humanity definitely gets overly fixated on this one. However, God sees the sickness behind the symptoms. Then addresses the root of the problem, not just the rotten fruit of it. Not only that, but He is also concerned about where your path is taking you. We are meant to be “set apart” for a place in God's kingdom, after all. That all begins with a good foundation, which begins in the heart. We will constantly struggle to understand how and why God is doing what he is doing if we look at his discipline so one-dimensionally. Author and councilor John Eldredge puts it so well with this quote. “The more we've become accustomed to seeking life apart from God, the more ‘abnormal and stressful’ it seems ‘to look for God directly.’ Especially as a father, fathering us. But it is worth it. . . So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screw-ups on our part are in fact God fathering us, taking us through something in order to strengthen us, or heal us, or dismantle some unholy thing in us.” Again, our response should be to look more closely and deeply. Consider the why behind the behavior as God likely is. We can’t overcome it if we don’t truly understand the problem. This leads to our final point.

Getting too fixated on this world. We often gauge success in life by what we accomplish or acquire here. Yet never consider the afterlife. So much of what Jesus taught had more long-term ramifications than the here and now. For example, the beatitudes found in Matthew 5:3-12. Many of his points are more about the world to come than this one. Yet our preoccupation with the tangible often blinds us to the ways of heart and spirit of the true disciple. So let's have a closer look at the passage. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This seems similar to Paul’s words of “perfect in weakness.” (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10) In other words, reliance on self alone is not enough. It’s those who acknowledge and own this that receive God’s strength. This is what enables you to take hold of the kingdom of Heaven, not mere willpower. What should your response to a poor spirit be?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Mourning is a process we often resist, we often try to find comfort by taking every possible shortcut we can think of to avoid the feelings of grieving. Inevitably it always magnifies our sorrow in the end. Mourning is in fact a critical part of the healing process. God comforts those who don’t forsake this. How do you respond to your own mourning, or the grieving of others for that matter?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. The original Greek word translated as “meek” is a bit inadequate. While accurate, it’s far from complete. It has been explained to me this way. This was a word used to describe a domesticated mustang. These were the horses most desired by Roman soldiers since they were far less timid riding into battle. As opposed to the hoses born in captivity. It’s about focusing that fierceness for a cause, rather than just chaos. Not neutralizing fierceness as we may assume when we hear meek. It speaks to the idea that being “set apart” for purpose is part of holiness, and leads to inheriting the earth. How will you respond when God tries to tame your fierceness for his kingdom?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Hunger and thirst are often associated with the flesh, we naturally seek fulfillment physically. However, in the spirit, we need righteousness to be fulfilled. What do you hunger or crave for? Do you make assumptions and indulge or suppress them accordingly? Or do you seek God for wisdom in the matter? (James 4:2-3)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. This is very much a, you reap in heaven what you sow on earth concept. (See also Luke 6:37-38) In a world that often resorts to such terrible things to get what they want out of this world as if it won't come back to haunt them. Will you respond like them?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. While the, you get out what you put into it concept seems obvious enough here. It seems like we apply it to others more than ourselves. You just can’t force sincerity though. There is more to being pure of heart than mere actions. Will you respond by facing your past, or continue to avoid our scars as we always have. Making excuses for everything, and allowing our hearts to be contaminated. This will affect our ability to see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Apparently, a peacemaker in the original Greek means one who bravely declares God's terms which makes someone whole. Not the abolition of war or violence. Not just what makes us righteous either. but what enables us to us be able to live righteously; wholeness. I guess it only makes sense that the teachers who skip over wholeness and simply define righteousness are more pot-stirrers than peacemakers. Yet they insist that they are the true children of God. Will you respond as a true peacemaker, or like a pharisee?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This is something we just assume avoid. Yet, this is where compromise of heart creeps in. Putting our inheritance in the kingdom of heaven at risk. How do you respond to persecution? As someone who puts all their hope in this world, or one who puts their hope in the world to come?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. This point is so important Jesus reiterates it. In a world where people are motivated by acceptance, approval, validation, and inclusion. We often compromise ourselves to avoid persecution. The new detail Jesus adds of false accusations needs to be addressed specifically though. It just seems to be in our nature to defend ourselves, to rationalize our choices. Social media seems to have exaggerated the practice. How do you respond to insults?

Let me close by simply restating our opening statement. The consistent outcome of life is determined by what is allowed to flow through the heart. Over time, what happens to me is far less significant than how I respond to what happens to me.

A man who stands tall despite being stabbed in the back many times