Category Archives: Teaching

Addiction!

An addiction is anything that gets ahold of your “want to” and won’t let go. It will have increasingly destructive consequences, but you excuse or overlook them in favor of what you want. Examples are myriad: alcohol, gambling, porn, sex, eating, fasting, exercising, adrenaline. An addiction may be to something healthy or unhealthy. 

When the addiction is to a healthy thing, it became an addiction when you couldn’t do without it, at the point when it got out of balance. Let’s take food for example. Obviously, we need to eat. However, when I self-medicate by eating, when I continue to eat too much and too often, when I cannot do without a meal, snack or drink without feeling deprived or uneasy, then I may well be addicted to eating. Relationships are healthy. We need to be connected to other people. However, when I cannot go a moment without someone, when I feel the constant need to know where they are and what they are doing, when I become jealous of other people who may take the person’s attention for any period of time, then I’ve got a problem. So does the person to whom I am addicted. 

Then there are addictions to dangerous things. This is usually where we identify addiction. The physiological attachment to something that destroys health. Why would someone do heroin, a sober person asks? Well, they may have been tempted to try it, then it got ahold of them, caused chemical changes in their body and made them need it.

Interestingly, a chemical doesn’t have to be physiologically addictive to gain a hold on you. Many people enjoy marijuana, and they will tell you that it is not an addictive chemical. Yet, the telltale signs of addiction may still occur: constant need for the high, continuous use of the drug even when it is obvious to those who are sober that negative consequences are occurring, escalation of usage, and/or an unwillingness to cut back. I’ve watched people over the years who have brought negative consequences into their lives as the result of smoking weed, but they will not slow down or stop. As an example, several years ago a young adult I was seeking to mentor got into some trouble with the law and was given probation. As a condition of his probation he was prohibited from using any illegal drug. He was required to meet with his probation officer weekly, and would receive random drug tests. He loved smoking weed so much that he stopped meeting with his p. o. in order to avoid being tested. He tried to hide. He got busted and is now serving an extended sentence for the original crime. Why? He needed marijuana.

Alcohol is a well known addiction. Those who recognize that they are addicted may call themselves “alcoholic” and see it as a disease. In fact, that is the dominant model for alcohol addiction. However, it has the same characteristics and consequences as any addiction. What alcohol has in its favor is social acceptance (marijuana is catching up). My father was an alcoholic. It is believed by some that alcoholism is hereditary (again the disease model in effect). As the result of this, and coming to faith in a baptist church that opposed drinking, I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 37 years old. For many years after that I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or beer, or perhaps a margarita. I could do with it or without it. Recently that has changed.

I don’t want to stop drinking alcohol. I’ve done a number of fasts over the past few years, but it has been difficult to give up alcohol for more than a few days. Drinking too much gives me a headache. You’d think that this would be enough to stop me. All it does is slow me down. I’m careful. But I don’t want to quit. I like the feeling it gives me, until I don’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m addicted, if not to alcohol, then to the reward, the feeling I get as the result of drinking. So, I need to stop. Is it a disease? I don’t believe so (check out the book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis). Is it an addiction? Yes, and I need to not need or want it, or I need to end it altogether.

The Bible teaches “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). That last phrase is very important. An addiction becomes the master of a person. I begin by enjoying something, but when it takes hold, it starts running my life—and ruining it. However, as a Christian, I have professed Jesus Christ as my Lord, which means I’ve given him control of my life. How dare I, or worse some chemical or thing, take control from Christ.

So, what to do? Well, during Lent I’ve been fasting alcohol, then my birthday came up and I started drinking occasionally again. Today is Monday of  Holy Week and I’ve chosen to (following a fellow minster and friend) do a complete fast until Easter. No food. No alcohol. I want nothing in control of my desires but Christ. 

I hope my little confession has helped you to evaluate your life, and maybe encouraged you to make some changes. I am not a clinician, psychologist or certified addiction counselor. You may need to get help from someone like that. I am a minster of the Gospel, and I will try to live up to that as well as I am able, with God’s help.

Walking On the Right Path

“There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” -Morpheus (The Matrix).

I initiated a fat loss competition at my church on the first Sunday in January. The purpose was (and is) to motivate people who enter to become more healthy, not just by losing pounds, or even inches, but by losing excess(ive) body fat. According to the Diabesity Institute (diabesityinstitute.org) 60% of Americans suffer from a combination of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Diabesity is the major factor behind heart disease. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine people with type 2 diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack. Obesity has long been known to increase the risk of heart disease. Therefore, this is not merely an issue of looking better, or even feeling better, but of living healthier and longer. Our church is called Lifewell and our motto is Live Life Well, This fits our mission.

I haven’t lost any fat, in spite of the fact that I have the knowledge and experience to do so. I could be a trainer if I had time and inclination to get certified. However, as Morpheus says in the first Matrix movie, “There is a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” See, I decided to take a different route. I wanted to know if I could gain muscle at the same time as losing body fat. Others have done this, but I have not. I followed a six week weightlifting protocol known as German Volume Training. I gained muscle, and strength. However, the reason I didn’t lose body fat likely had more to do with my unwillingness to give up a daily craft beer reward, and being lax in keeping up with my daily food log. The result was too many calories, and a daily interference of alcohol in my liver. The latter inhibits the liver’s ability to burn fat (at least, while it is dealing with filtering the alcohol).

What to do? Be happy with my muscle gain? Buy bigger pants? Wear all of my shirts untucked to hide a burgeoning gut? No, I’m going to re-start. Turns out virtually everyone in our competition voted to do the same. The original plan was to weigh-out on Valentine’s Day. Yeah, there were very few people who left their houses that morning. We live in Texas. February 14th was the start of a very rough week of freezing temperatures and power outages.  Prior to that we had folks dealing with Covid-19. It’s been a difficult 2021 so far. However, as the Bible promises, God’s grace is new every morning. God’s grace is my inspiration to start over, and over, and over. So, I’m not giving up, or giving in. 

The season of Lent is a time of fasting. Intermittent fasting is a great way to lose body fat. It’s also a time of self-denial. Many Christians give something up for Lent. This teaches us to say no to self and yes to God. Life is about seasons. our bodies are designed for intermittent feasting and fasting. The holiday season is for feasting. Lent is for fasting. My plan is to give up alcohol, and to fast periodically, particularly every Friday. This will help spiritually and physically. Health involves the whole person.

This re-start is an opportunity to walk the path I that know: keep a food log, count calories and keep them at around 1700 per day, avoid sugar, starch and generally keep carbs low (around 100gm/day), continue to lift weights, add cardio, and NO ALCOHOL. I’ve done this several times in the past decade and dropped my body fat below 10%, and sustained it for years. 

Today is Day One… again. Easter is 40 days away, and that is our new weigh-out date for the fat loss competition at my church. My goal is to get back below 10% body fat. I am convinced I can do it, but only if I do what I know. That really applies to all of life.

Jesus said something to his followers that is the best summation: “You know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). Do what you know to be right and true. If not, well, Jesus’ half-brother James said, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).

Do what is right, always: in health, in relationships, in your thinking, in life.

How to Respond to a World Out of Control

  1. Ignore it, and get on with your life. Sadly, this will not work for long. The culture, government, and corporations are all part of the world you’re trying to ignore. They are advocating for a particular position and demanding you support it. Additionally, as the world worsens, good people become complicit in its demise by refusing to take a stand. “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” This also applies to the next option. 
  2. Withdraw. Also called the Benedict (monastic) Option. Take your kids out of school, move to the country, grow your own food, drop off of the grid. Gather with only like-minded people. Will you be able to fulfill the Great Commission this way? Should we just let the world go to hell?
  3. Fight. Debate. Get into politics. Protest. Try to change the system. We’ve seen too many years of this. What is the result? Deep division. Prejudice. Contempt. The trouble with wrestling with pigs is, you both get muddy, but the pig likes it (variation on quote by George Bernard Shaw). Do you like living in the mud? Hopefully not. Might be a reason to adjust your social media interaction. 
  4. Shine! Remember, if you belong to Jesus, you reflect His light. “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 10:12) Christ is the light to guide the nations (Isaiah 42:6). That is what our world needs to see! And Jesus will open their blind eyes (42:7). We receive Christ’s ministry and become agents and ambassadors, reflecting his light upon a dark world.

“Let your light so shine before people so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2 ESV)

Be the change!  Do good. Love people. Live a positive life of faith in the face of a dark, negative world. Live in such a way that people will want what you have. This gives you the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus.  The LORD will encourage you! That’s what the Holy Spirit is, an Encourager. He will give you courage and strength and confidence in the face of the darkening world.

“Light arises in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious and compassionate and righteous…He will not fear bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is upheld, he will not fear….” (Psalm 112:4:7-8)

A) Love people instead of ignoring them or showing contempt and hatred.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43–45, ESV)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20, ESV)

B) Speak the Truth in love, rather than accepting or repeating lies. This includes unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, rumors and gossip.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)

Those who traffic in lies are doing business for the Father of Lies.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44, ESV)

Those who live and speak the Truth are of the one who called Himself Truth.

“I am the way, the Truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Jesus prayed that we would be set apart by the Truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

C) Focus on the Good News and share it with anyone who will listen.

When you hear bad news, pray. Trust God. Now turn back to the Good News of the grace of God and share it with others! That’s our mission (Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8)

Nothing else matters as much as this.

Paul didn’t consider even his life of any value, except as it might be used to share the Gospel.

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24, ESV)

D) Pray often and offer to pray for other people. Tell people: I will remember you in my prayers. What would you like me to pray for?”

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

E) Believe God for healing, deliverance and salvation in your life and the lives of others. Do you expect God to do great things when you ask?

“Ask and you will receive…” (Matt. 7:7)

“Whatever you ask in faith, believing you shall receive” (Matt. 21:22).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:12–13, ESV)

F) Openly testify and give God glory for the miracles He works in your life and in the world. This requires as much faith as it did to ask in the first place. If we fail to give God glory for what he has done and is doing, he may stop working until we do! 

“He who has, more will be given, but he who has not, even what he has will be taken from him.”

This is God’s revelation in the life of a believer. Do you receive what the Lord is doing? Are you willing to confess that it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure? (Phil 2:13)

Don’t be ashamed to speak of the Lord and what He is doing in your life and ministry!

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).

which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV)

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33, ESV)

The word for “acknowledge” in Greek means “to express openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person.”

Don’t throw your pearls to pigs. If they mock you, move to a new person or audience, who will respect what you have to say. But don’t be intimidated, and don’t stop testifying of the truth!

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Forget BMI. What you need to know if you want to lose fat is your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate. You can determine the number of calories your body needs each day by determining your Basal Metabolic Rate, then adding or subtracting from that depending upon your goals. You can do the math under #4 below to get that number. First, let’s understand some other important considerations for losing fat.

  1. Calories. Your body burns energy measured in calories. Counting calories is much maligned by many today, but it is still the best way to determine the amount of energy your body needs.
  2. Macronutrients contain different numbers of calories. There are three of these.
    • Carbohydrate 1 gram = 4.5 calories
    • Protein 1 gram = 4.5 calories
    • Fat 1 gram = 9 calories
    • Alcohol (not a macronutrient) 1 gram = 7 calories
  3. Count Calories. Each person burns a different number of calories depending upon their metabolism and activity level. Count your calories.
    • Write down everything you eat in a normal day and add up the calories.
    • Go online or get a calorie counting app for your smart phone. Many of these automatically calculate the number of calories you should take in per day in order to meet your goal, be that weight loss or weight gain.
  4. BMR- Below is the math to figure your Basal Metabolic Rate

A) Females:

Multiply your weight by 10.

Now, add your weight.

Next subtract 2% for every 10 years of life.

Example of 120 lbs 20 year old woman: 120 x 10 = 1200, 1200 + 120 = 1320, 1320 x .04 = 52.8, 1320 – 52.8 =1267.2

B) Males:

Multiply your weight by 10,

Now add twice your weight.

Next subtract 2% for every ten years of life.

Example of a 150 lbs 20 year old man- 150 x 10 = 1500, 150 x 2 = 300, 1500 = 300 = 1800, .04 x 1800 = 72, 1800 – 72 =1728

Activity Adjustment for Both Males and females: 

Add 20% – 40% depending upon your activity level. 20% = couch potato/sedentary job, 30% average, 40% active.

Example of the female above with an average activity level: 1267.2 x .30 = 380.16, 380.16 + 1267.2 = 1647.36

  1. Lose fat.
    • If you want to lose fat, you must burn more calories than you eat!
    • There are 3,500 calories contained in one pound of fat.
    • This means once you accumulate 3,500 more calories than you need, you will gain a pound of fat.
    • Eat less! Cut between 250-500 (no more!) calories per day.
    • Do more! Exercise 30-45 minutes 3-4 days per week, which will enable you to burn at least 250-350 calories per workout.
    • Intermittent Fasting- Stop eating between Sundown and 8:00 P. M. Don’t eat again until at least 13 hours have passed. Vary this: some days go 16hrs, then 18hrs, then 20 up to 24.
  2. Gain muscle.
    • If you want to gain muscle, work out with weights 3-4 times per week and take in more calories than you burn.
    • Add 500 calories to your BMR.
    • Eat an amount of protein equal in grams to your body weight in pounds, up to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight.
    • Consume your largest meal of the day an hour after a hard workout.
    • Drink a whey protein shake within one hour before and after your weight workout.

These statements have not been evaluated by a physician. Always consult your doctor before starting a diet or exercise program.

God’s Purpose for the Pandemic

I know many of you think it’s bad. Certainly this virus is bad for some who catch it, very bad for a few. Can good come out of bad? Did God send this? Is it judgment for our sins? Does God have a purpose for the pandemic?

First of all, God is omnipotent and sovereign. That means He may do whatever He pleases, and He is powerful enough to do it. Therefore, whether God sent this virus, He is certainly powerful enough to stop it. God is also good, and His purposes, although often inscrutable (beyond our understanding), are ultimately good. God is love, but at times His love is what we might call “tough love.” “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). 

This ain’t heaven. We live in a fallen world, and it is filled with hardship and suffering. Even those of us who believe in Jesus and try to follow Him suffer, sometimes more because of our faith. We’re not going to make our world into heaven, but heaven is coming. This is bootcamp for eternity! God has a purpose for our suffering and difficulty down here: to make us more like His Son, Jesus.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28–29, NIV)

God can make good come out of a bad situation. God has a purpose for the pandemic we are currently experiencing. What is it? Let’s look at something Jesus said when confronted with the suffering of his countrymen. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and many of the people, believed that when something bad happened to someone it was God’s judgment on them. They deserved it because of their sin. Now, we can certainly bring suffering upon ourselves as a consequence of our bad decisions and evil actions, but that doesn’t mean that every time something bad happens to someone, it is some kind of punishment from God for a particular sin.

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5, NIV)

Unless you repent, you too will perish… We all sin. Sin is falling short of God’s purpose for you. It is rebellion. It is breaking the moral law. Sin is failure or refusal to believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him. It is refusing to believe that God is, and is good and loving. Sin is self-centered idolatry. Sin is Pride. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

We all sin, and we must all turn away from sin and toward God. We must put our faith in the one who can and will save us, Jesus Christ.  If you don’t, then you’ll eventually be destroyed by your sin. “The price for sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). This is eternal death, separation from God, total destruction in hell. The reason for death and hell is sin. The reason the world is fallen is because of our sin. “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

“….but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Jesus came to save us from eternal destruction. Jesus was raised from death on the third day, Easter Sunday. All of those who are in Christ will overcome death too. In fact, He promised those who believed in him would not see death. “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51, NIV) Those of us who believe in Jesus and follow Him because of our faith will not die forever. In fact, we’ll not really perceive death, only a transition into the presence of God. We will not perish. We have received His gift of eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live, even though He dies” (John 11:25).

In a very real sense, everything bad that happens down here, including and especially death, is God’s judgment, which is the consequence of our sin. So, I’m not sure the distinction is all that important between God causing a particular thing and it happening due to nature. The world we have inherited is separated from God. That’s the judgment. What you and I must do is turn our lives over to God by putting complete trust in Jesus. We must repent of our sin, which means change our thinking and our ways.

I believe God’s purpose for the pandemic is to bring about repentance, especially repentance from idols. It is a reason for you to turn from worthless things, and turn (or return) to Jesus. The world is filled with idols, and we have set our hearts on those idols. Now, some of them have been taken from us, albeit temporarily. No sports, no eating out, no parties, loss of money, loss of precious freedom. These are not necessarily bad in themselves, but we value them too highly. Too often we look to them rather than God. As author and pastor Tim Keller put it: “Anything we look to more than we look to Christ for our sense of acceptability, joy, significance, hope, and security is by definition our god.” Now, you may say, “Well, I don’t really value sports, my gym, or favorite restaurant that much.” Here’s the test of whether something or someone is an idol. Once again from Keller, “A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger, or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So, if we lose a good thing, it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us.” 

You and I are forced to stay at home right now so we might focus on what is really important: our souls, our homes and families, and our relationship with God. So, what are you doing with the time you’ve been given? As for me, I’ve been thinking and praying about making some changes in my life for quite some time, but I never seem to quite do what I want to do.I begin but don’t carry it out to the end. I’ve asked God to help me, and He has, but I return to the same old patterns. The pandemic is a wake up call. It has given me perspective. It has laser-focused me. It’s like chemotherapy for my soul. It’s killing some things that needed to die. But it can’t last forever, or it will kill what is good too.

I could lose everything if God doesn’t step in and do something powerful and  miraculous. Lifewell Church is my life’s work. For some who attend our church, it may just another activity, something to do on Sunday, a place to gather with friends, hear some music, maybe listen to a nice message, some teaching from the Bible. For me, well, If I lose this church I lose everything. I lose what I’ve worked for for more than 20 years. What happens if the shutdown lasts for months? Will people lose interest? What happens if they lose their income and stop giving? We can’t pay our bills. Would the church dissolve, and I fade into the light of common day? If I didn’t believe God would protect us and hold us together, I would be in despair right now. I’d be living in panic and fear. 

This leads me to realize that according to Keller’s evaluation, even Lifewell Church might be an idol to me. So, I’ve made it clear to the Lord that as long as I have Him, nothing else matters. I need His presence, His protection, and His direction for my life. “Whom do I have in heaven but You, and I desire nothing on earth beside You” (Psalm 73:25). Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, the child God promised him. Abraham was willing to give up his son, and God gave Isaac back, along with affirmation that Abraham’s descendants would be a multitude and become all that God had promised. 

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”” (Genesis 22:16–18, NIV)

Sometimes you have to give something up to keep it from becoming an idol, and if it is God’s will you’ll receive it back. Only then it will become what God intended it to be in your life. This works with anything, or anyone, we value too much. I have given Lifewell Church over to the Lord completely. God has given me confidence that our church will be well. I am at peace. I am not afraid. I am waiting on the Lord to act miraculously. I still believe we will become all that God established us to be. In fact, I believe we will actually grow during the pandemic! We’ll come back stronger than ever. I believe.

Here’s something you desperately need to realize during this potentially dangerous time: God can and will protect you if you trust and rely on Him. If you turn from your self-seeking ways toward God’s perfect plan for your life. then you and your family will be protected. This is true of all who will remain “in Christ.” You may suffer, but you will not be destroyed. That is not the case when you think like the world and wander around doing your own thing. That’s living like a practical atheist, even if you say you believe in God. 

I cling to Psalm 91 in times like these. 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Psalm 91:1, 5–7, NIV). 

We’re under an emergency order to “shelter inside your home” right now. Well, Almighty God is my home, and He will protect me because I am sheltered in Him. You can count on God to keep you safe from destruction if you are in Christ, because God promised to do so and He keeps His promises.

So, I have been fasting and praying daily for the past week, and I plan on continuing to do that until Easter Sunday. I am praying for the protection and prosperity of my Lifewell Church family. That’s what they are to me, family, not followers, parishioners or attenders. I am praying daily that none of us gets sick. I am believing we will not. I am praying for a miraculous breakthrough in this pandemic by Easter Sunday. I am praying and fasting and praying for our nation and our world! I do not receive sickness, hospitalization or death. I believe the report God gives in His Word, not the fear-mongering media, and not the unbelieving masses online.

I am desperate. I am determined. I am in the process of making changes in my own heart and life. I confess this with the hope that you will look closely and carefully at your life too. Let the Spirit of God encourage you and grant you a change of heart, friend. Decide. Change your thinking; change your ways. “Don’t be conformed to this world any longer, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may test and approve God’s perfect and pleasing will for your lives” (Romans 12:2).

Will you join me? Will you repent? God can, and I believe God will, stop the pandemic, but not until his purpose is accomplished. That purpose is not punishment, or I’d be sick already. God is warning us. Our repentance may well be what God is waiting on to shut this down.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV)

In the end God will accomplish his purpose, and he is working everything out for the good of those who love him and are called to that purpose, which is to make us like Jesus. So, have faith, be confident. Faith is inherently positive when it is invested in the all powerful, good and loving God. This is the One we may call Father because of Jesus. 

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15, NIV)

Remember, fear is the opposite of faith, and Jesus’ followers have the Holy Spirit, not a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). Seek the Lord and make the necessary changes to your life. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:6). This pandemic will result in good for those who follow Jesus to God’s glory. I am believing God that this will end soon. Make it so, Lord, amen!

Why Fasting Is Important and Healthy

The truth is everyone has thoughts or desires, which, if acted upon, would be destructive to self and others. If we do not learn to say no to these inborn incessant urges when we are young, then we wind up dead, in debt or in prison before too long. We are conditioned to say yes to our whims from the time we are tiny via an array convincing consumer ads. Our economy surges when we splurge and buy what we are persuaded we want. In addition to this, we are taught that virtually nothing we do is really our fault. We are victims of time and chance and genetics, to say nothing of the people who have scarred us emotionally and psychologically. I need to eat comfort food to feel better; I need to buy myself something; I need to escape by playing my video games, trolling the internet for ever more interesting porn, watching countless hours of television or movies. Entitlement is a destructive mental illness because it is the excuse keeping us from saying no to ourselves.

Jesus said that unless we deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him we cannot be his disciples. Christianity in our time has followed the consumer culture by presenting a Jesus who wants to boost our sagging self-esteem, and enable our sense of entitlement by providing us with anything and everything we ask for in prayer. We are promised that we can receive whatever we ask for, but Jesus said, “if you abide in me and my word abides in you, then ask whatever you will and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). He also instructed his followers to ask in His name, which means asking by proxy for the kinds of things and with the kind of faith Jesus himself would. This is not self-interested asking. The only way to get to the place where we are asking like the Son of God is to become like the Son of God, and the only way to get there is to deny ourselves and be filled with the Spirit of Christ.

This denial of self is a cognitive process that involves seeing ourselves differently. It involves realizing a mysterious metaphysical reality: I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). This cannot be a theoretical understanding only, or even a remarkable personal revelation into the teaching of Scripture. The Apostle said, “I die daily.” Thus, it is a daily, even moment-by-moment, recognition that the old person of mere flesh and blood is dead. 

Self-denial requires faith that results in self-discipline. Without faith we likely will fail to continue in the discipline. After all, why should I deny myself what I desire? Moreover, without assistance from outside myself I remain captive to the tyranny of “me,” even while seeking to deny certain desires or perceived needs. Therefore, faith in Christ is essential to self-denial, both as the reason and the power to deny the self. This is much stronger than so called “will-power.”

I confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and the Lord has commanded that I deny self. In fact, he stated plainly that I couldn’t follow him until I do this (Mark 10:34, Luke 14:26-27).  To assist me in keeping this command Jesus has died on the cross, risen from the dead and sent His Spirit to live within me. The Holy Spirit connects me to Christ’s death and resurrection. Now the spiritual reality is: I have died; my old life is buried; a new creation has been resurrected. In order to make this truth a reality in my experience I must believe and continually discipline myself to act upon that faith. Certain spiritual disciplines may aid in this practice.

For thousands of years people in many different religious traditions have practiced fasting. Consider the following examples of people who fasted: Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and Hippocrates (father of medicine).  In the Bible we find Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and Esther fasting in the Old Testament. In the Mosaic Law 

Israel is commanded to fast once per year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). In the New Testament Paul the apostle and Jesus fasted. Such eminent Christian leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards also fasted. Why?

There are many reasons and benefits, but in keeping with the teaching above I have observed the following truth. Fasting teaches me to say, “no” to me. It is denying something that I need, usually food, in order to focus on what I need more: God and his truth. Jesus was tempted by the devil to end his 40 day inaugural fast miraculously by turning rocks into loaves of bread. The Lord quoted Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4 & Deut. 8:3). There is something, or rather Someone, more important in life than me. 

Eating is essential for physical life to continue. Unlike air, or even water, food is something I can limit or go without for an extended period of time without serious health risks. In fact, if done correctly and not recklessly, fasting may actually be healthy for the body. For example, recent studies done with both animals and humans indicate that eating 30% fewer calories results in a longer and healthier life. 

Fasting doesn’t have to be limited to food, however. Scripture records this interesting fast of the prophet Daniel during a period of serious prayer and mourning: “I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks” (Daniel 10:3, ESV). So, Daniel kept himself from self indulgence during this time. Later in the passage we see that he had chosen this kind of fast as a way of humbling himself before God to seek understanding into the future plight of his people Israel (ibid. 10:12). The Apostle Paul observed that married couples might abstain from sexual activity in order to focus on prayer. However, he encourages such couples to come back together after a limited time to avoid temptations, which may result from a lack of self-control (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). During the Christian season of Lent some people come up with an activity or indulgence in their lives to give up, which is a kind of fasting.

The following are seven reasons for fasting.

1. DEDICATION. Fast as an Act of Dedication (Matthew 4:1-2) –  After his baptism, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he fasted for 40 days to prepare for entry into his ministry. During this time Jesus was tested by the devil. Perhaps fasting gave Jesus clarity as he intensely focused on His Father. The time of testing provided confirmation that He was the Son of God who had come to save the world. You may fast as an act of dedication to the Lord, and to seek confirmation about his calling in your life.

2. DISCIPLINE. Fast as an Exercise of Self-Discipline (Matthew 4:3-4) –  Learn to say no to yourself. All of the temptations Jesus endured were aimed at getting him to act egotistically and expediently. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but an effort at overcoming self-doubt with presumption. Our consumer culture is about self-indulgence, not self-discipline. It is about pursuing passion, pleasure and satisfying desire. This is why we’re overweight and in debt. It is important to set limits for our time, money, eating and drinking. Fasting is a good tool to discipline yourself so that you may also say no in areas other than food.

3. DEPENDENCE. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence upon God-  Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). When I give up something I truly want, I will need God’s help to persevere. The third affirmation of the AA 12 Steps recognizes our need to do this. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” This is essential if I am to overcome a particularly stubborn habit or addiction. “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 12:29). We need a deep faith, which relies entirely upon God, and fasting may help promote such faith.

4. DETERMINATION. Fast to Establish Determination-  Faith is not a feeling. Belieiving is an act of the will. If I truly believe I am willing to do something about it. Faith must also endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Not everything happens instantly. In fact, many issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. After Jesus cast out the spirit afflicting the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless to do so. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). 

Remember, although faith is an act of the will, it is not about willpower. It is about trust. I must be determined to continue to trust God, no matter the circumstances. This is fasting for a breakthrough. Nothing is helping. Nothing is changing. I can give up and give in, or I can resolve to focus all my attention on God and persevere in asking and seeking and knocking. Consider Jesus’ parable of the importunate widow: the woman kept coming to the judge for justice until he finally gave her fair relief (Luke 18:1-8). In the end I will find it is not God who is withholding my right, but a lack of faith on my part. Fasting helps me to break through.

5. DESPERATION/Destitution. Fast as an Act of Desperation (Joel 2:17-21) –  Am I sick and tired of being sick and tired? Do I realize I have nothing to offer God? I must repent and come to an end of self if I want to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I must realize how truly sinful I am, and how depraved I will become without God’s help. I’ve got to take sin seriously. Cry out to God in repentance. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12 NIV). “God will hear the prayer of the destitute” (Psa. 102:17). I need to hear from God at all costs. Our nation and our lives are filled with rebellion, perversion and lawlessness. How many more tragedies must occur until we realize the need to return to the Lord in heart and mind and body? “for the LORD will rebuild Zion; he will appear in his glory” (Psa. 102:16).

6. DETOXIFICATION. Fast as a means of Detoxification (Daniel 1:8-16) – Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as a result. They asked to be tested for 10 days. You can do the same test on yourself: Eat only vegetables and drink only water for 10 days and discover a healthier you. A vegan or even vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods is a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you abstain from food altogether, drinking only water, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver and kidneys can be cleansed of accumulated poison.

The same applies to your mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.

7. DIET. Fast regularly to lose excess body fat- Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting, (ie. one day per week), if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body. Further, we eat too often, and this adversely affects health by raising insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting throughout the week will help resolve this health problem. Stop eating at sundown and don’t eat again until sunrise. Several days per week, don’t eat until lunchtime. Periods of at least 13 hours without food will help your body to reduce the amount of insulin it is releasing and help your cells to become more sensitive..

Here are some practical guidelines and suggestions for possible fasts. Remember the following principles. 1) If you make a vow, keep it.  2) Choose something that will really require discipline to give up. 3) Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.

Consider one several of the following fasts during Lent.

  1. Pick a legitimate pleasurable food or activity and deny yourself this.
    1. Why? You are learning to discipline yourself for the sake of Christ.
    2. For example eliminate: candy, soda, dessert, coffee, alcohol, TV, watching or listening to sports, secular music,  talk radio, movies, video games, Facebook, texting.
  2. Fast at least once per week from sundown to sundown. Eat a healthy dinner immediately before sundown on the first day, skip breakfast and lunch the next day, and break the fast right after sundown. Although, this is a 24 hour fast, you will have only skipped two meals.
  3. Juice fast for 24 hours. Drink only pure vegetable juice. 
  4. Eat no flesh. Abstain from eating meat during the entirety of Lent. 

Now, Lent is 46 days because Sunday is considered a feast day, and there are six Sundays in this period. Therefore, it is acceptable to “take Sunday off” during Lent.

Deliver Us From Evil

In the Bible’s Old Testament book of Judges, the leaders for whom the book is named were actually deliverers who saved Israel from foreign domination. There were 12 Judges. They were imperfect, sometimes immoral, leaders, but each one was used by God to save the people of Israel during a period of lawlessness and idolatry. The theme of Judges could be the theme of our nation today: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (17:6, 21:25). The leadership of Donald Trump parallels that of the Judges: imperfect, insecure, offensive, yet chosen by God for a purpose. Here are some examples of the Judges.

Ehud, the second Judge, delivered Israel by subterfuge and murder. He went to meet with Eglon the king of Moab under guise of peace. Ehud requested a private audience with the king, then stabbed him in the stomach with a concealed short sword.

Deborah was a respected judge who rendered decisions for Israel, and she was an unexpected deliverer during a period of patriarchal leadership.  Deborah encouraged and advised Barak in his march against the Canaanite king, Jabin. However, Barak didn’t get the glory for his defeat, nor did Deborah. Instead a woman named Jael decieved Jabin and shrewdly murdered him by driving a tent peg through is skull.

Gideon was visited by an angel as he threshed wheat while hiding in a wine press. During this time Midianite raiders would enter Israel during harvest and steal their grain, as well as their livestock. The angel complemented and encouraged Gideon: “The LORD is with you, valiant warrior!” Gideon’s response was not one of faith, however. “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his miracles…” Nonetheless Gideon was willing and obedient, even though he showed fear and doubt, needing to see signs, then requiring even further confirmation after that. God chose Gideon and used him to miraculously deliver Israel with only 300 men.

Jephthah was recognized as a valiant warrior, but he the son of a prostitute. His brothers rejected him and ran him out of their territory. However, when Israel was oppressed by Ammon those same brothers begged Jephthah to return and lead an army to deliver them.  Jephthah made them promise to make him their leader upon the successful defeat of Ammon. They agreed. In order to secure favor from the Lord, Jephthah made a rash and tragic vow to God, “if You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (11:30-31). To prove how foolish this faithless vow was, the first thing to come out the door of Jephthah’s house was his daughter. In pride Jephthah carried out the vow.

The last judge we’ll look at is Samson. He was a miracle baby. His parents were infertile. An angel promised that God would give them a baby, but he must be a Nazirite from birth. This meant: 1) he was never to cut his hair, 2) never to drink wine or even touch grapes, 3) and never to touch a dead body. Samson is known, not for his great leadership, or wisdom, but for his physical strength. He was sexually promiscuous, a vindictive schemer, given to outbursts of rage, and he pushed the limits of his Nazirite vow by touching the carcass of a lion, and eventually telling his lover that his strength came from his long hair. Each time Samson defeated the Philistines it was for selfish reasons. This culminated in his final suicide mission wherein he literally brought the house down on his head by toppling the central pillars of a large structure, killing 3000 Philistines who were present to worship their god and mock Samson. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life. Except for the fact that Samson achieved several minor victories against the Philistines it is difficult to understand why he is considered a Judge, until we recognize that God chose to use this imperfect strongman to achieve His purpose.

Donald Trump is a lightening rod; people either love him or hate him. Today the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him for abusing the power of his office, and obstructing congress. Predictably the vote followed party lines. The Senate will hold a trial, and if they concur he will be removed from office. Most people doubt this will happen because the Senate is controlled by Trump’s party. Whether one loves or hates him, I would make the case that God chose to put this imperfect leader in place for a purpose. In fact, I will be bold (and appear to be partisan) by stating unequivocally that God has used Trump to stave off the relentless march of godless social and political policy in the same way the Old Testament Judges delivered Israel from foreign oppression. For the time being God has used an imperfect leader to deliver this nation from the evil it is bringing upon itself.

I. The evil of religious intolerance. The United States is imperfect, but it was established by those who fled religious intolerance. Now we face a political party that rejects First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion if either of those freedoms threaten their agenda.

II. The evil of abortion on demand. The Democrat party has pushed abortion as a signature issue. At one time leadership in the party stated that abortions should be safe and rare. Now, they wholeheartedly support Planned Parenthood, an organization that has been caught trafficking in aborted baby body parts. They not only support late term abortions– taking the life of a fetus that is viable, a baby that could be born alive–but this political group supports letting a breathing baby die. This is evil.

III. The eventual evil of Socialism. I say eventual evil because Socialism is a step in the direction of Marxism, which is inherently atheistic and intolerant of any opinion that doesn’t align with its radical economic and social viewpoint. We often hear of the evil of Nazism. Under Hitler 11 million undesirables were exterminated. This pales in comparison to the wholesale slaughter perpetrated by Socialist and Communist leaders in the 20th Century. Russia’s Stalin starved and murdered over 20 million of his people. China’s Chairman Mau exterminated more than 45 million who disagreed, Pol Pot murdered nearly two million in Cambodia. Some estimates put the murders perpetrated by Marxist ideology at more than 100 million. Yes, Socialism may well result in great evil.

I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I was almost deceived into voting for Hillary Clinton, but declined to do so. In the wake of the Trump Presidency what I feared has not come to pass. Trump is offensive, narcissistic, vindictive, but has proven to be a foil against those who will destroy our nation. He has supported the right of the unborn to life. He has supported religious liberty. He has opposed Socialism. I don’t agree with other positions he holds. However, he is not evil, nor is he bad for this country. However, his presidency has clearly shown us who is. I will vote Trump in 2020 if that is possible. I cannot in good conscience vote for any Democrat.

Thy Kingdom come, Lord Jesus,

Thy will be done, Father,

on earth as it is in heaven.

 

When Was Jesus Born?

Possible Years

Circa 6BC (Blomberg, New American Commentary),

As early as 12BC (Vardaman, who looks to Josephus mention of Jesus’ ministry as occurring circa AD 15-19).

Original estimate by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD to reset the calendar around the Advent was inaccurate. The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/presentation in the Temple fell on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so Jesus had to be born prior to that.

The Star of Bethlehem is another possible way to date Jesus’ birth. The star was newly appeared at a specific time, travelled slowly, and moved from east to south. It was unusual or the Magi wouldn’t have come all the way from Persia to inquire about the birth of the King of the Jews. Magi were a priestly group in Persia, according to Herodotus (1:101) 6th C BC, associated with astronomy and astrology, which was a core educational subject in the ancient world (see Plato’s Republic, 529). Also Philo stated a belief that the stars offer “timely signs of coming events” because “the stars were made for signs” (ie. Genesis 1:14).

There is also a tradition that the Magi came from Arabia (Justin Martyr, AD 160). Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 96) considered frankincense and myrrh to have originated near Arabia. Magi visiting kings was a regular practice in the ancient world. There are numerous references in literature of the time. Ie. Tiridates, King of Armenia, led Magi to pay homage to Nero in AD 66.

Time for Journey:

It would have taken them 1-2 months for the journey. A fully loaded camel can travel 50 miles in a day comfortably. It is 900 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem, going around the Arabian desert, thus a journey of 18 days without stopping, which they surely did.

Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, a theory dating back to Masha’allah AD 8th century.

Star as a comet. Comet seen on it’s way toward earth, or moving away. Perihelion is the point at which the comet’s orbit is closest to the sun. So, could the Magi have seen a comet on the way toward perihelion, which led them to Jerusalem, then lost sight of it in the sun, which led them to inquire of Herod, and regained sight as the comet came back into view.

Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, reveals a comet appeared in 12 BC (Roman History 54-29) and seemed to stand over the city of Rome. This was likely Halley’s comet. This timing would agree with Vardaman’s unique earlier chronology of Jesus life (mentioned above)

AD 1303 Halley’s comet appeared and Giotto painted a nativity with it pointing to Mary and Jesus leading the Magi to the creche. If the tail of the comet is vertical, then it would appear to point toward something on earth. Origen (c. 2nd C. A.D. in Contra Celsum 1.58) states: “The star that was seen in the east we consider to be a new star… partaking of the nature of those celestial bodies which appear at times such as comets… If then at the commencement of new dynasties or on the occasion of other important events there arises a comet… why should it be a matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine… a star should have arisen?”

Halley’s comet appeared on Aug. 26 of 12 BC for 56 days.

A comet appeared in 5 BC from March 9 – April 6

Another appeared in April of 4 B.C.

The 5 BC Comet

“In March/April… this particular comet would have been first seen rising in the East in the morning sky….. the Magi first saw the comet soon after perihelion… travelled to Jerusalem, a journey time of 1-2 months, then saw the comet in the south in the morning sky as they travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BC could well have contributed to the expectation of the Magi that something portentous was about to occur. Saturn represented the divine father and Jupiter his son. The conjunction took place in the constellation Pisces which was associated with Israel. The conjunction happened three times in May, October and December of 7 B.C. The message they interpreted was this: “a Messiah-king will be born in Israel.” As if to provide more confirmation, Mars joined the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 6 B.C. Mars represented war, so the coming king would be a mighty one.

Magi Arrival

If Jesus was born in March/April of 5 BC, then the Magi could have travelled to Jerusalem by the summer. If they spoke to Herod about the constellation of Jupiter and Saturn they had seen in 7 B.C., it would have caused him to err on the side of caution and kill all of the babies from two years and younger.

“Jesus would not have been born less than six weeks before the visit of the Magi… the most probable sequence of events in Matthew and Luke is: birth, visit of shepherds, presentation in Temple, return to Bethlehem to stay in house, visit of Magi. 

Stable vs. House: Since Jesus was likely born in the stable attached to a house, the house being too full of guests for either comfort or privacy, the family may have simply moved into a guest room of the house some time after Jesus was born.

Comet Hypothesis

Jesus was born in March or April of 5 B.C., at earliest March 9th and latest May 4th. Birth around Passover: the census would have been spread over a long period, so Bethlehem being filled with people would fit the Passover time.

The Census

A.D. 5th century historian Orosius (Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16) indicates Caesar Augustus ordered a census be taken of each province primarily to prove allegiance to himself. “This is the earliest and most public acknowledgement which marked Christ as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world… since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and through participation in the census, were made part of one society.’

Birth of Jesus

Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year A.D. 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.”

Christmas occurs in a Roman calendar Chronographus Anni CCCLIV (A.D. 354), Sol Invictus was on that day but Christmas replaced it. However, since Mithraism and Sol Invictus was introduced after the birth of Jesus (no earlier than AD 90), it may well have been the other way around originally.

Independence and Freedom

I was privileged to start a new church 20 years ago today. We held our first worship service at 111 Ranch in Garland, Texas on a hot July 4th evening in 1999. I chose the date with auspicious intent. 

Today is Independence Day, the day the the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence affirming freedom for all people and rejecting British rule. It is the day we became United States of America. It took many more years for that freedom to become a reality for slaves, but the truths stated therein supported the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Individuals and nations have the right to separate themselves from tyranny and to establish independence, in order to be free to pursue the life God created. 

Separation

Over the years I have been involved in several great churches, and for the denomination and its agencies that assisted in the launch of our church I have the highest regard. However, anyone who has been involved in church on more than a surface level can likely give examples of legalistic and judgmental attitudes among leadership and people. In fact, I must admit, as much as I dislike those attitudes, I’ve been judgmental too! If I am going to love people the way Jesus does, I must stop judging them.

Back then our name was City of Refuge, another symbol intended to help us turn away from being judgmental. In the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge were established to protect those who were accused of murder. Here they could run to safety from the avenger of blood, and here they would receive a fair trial. In this city the accused could continue to live without fear or shame as the result of their past mistakes or misfortunes. 

Too often, down to our day, an accusation is enough to destroy the reputation of the accused. People believe what they want to. Anyone may say anything about anyone else, publicize it via the press or social media, and many people will assume the worst, refusing to change closed minds, even when facts contradict the accusation. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Instead there is a de facto assumption of guilt toward anyone accused.  In my observation judgmental attitudes rule our culture today, from bottom to top. So, a church that suspends judgment, whether moral, social, or political, would be a welcome contrast.

Twenty years later we are called Lifewell Church, but I hope we continue to be a refuge for the oppressed and accused.  I pray we continue to be a source of acceptance and a dispenser of God’s grace to people who have been rejected. As the pastor, I seek to root out any source of sanctimony and judgment in our midst, beginning with myself!

I also wanted us to separate ourselves from all of the pretense and presumption I experienced in the institutional church. Enter some churches and you can feel the fakery. Oh, they may have orthodox theology, but the heart is not there. Concerning such people Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). This may be seen in high church ritual, the slick Sunday production of a mega church, or the well worn routine of any church in between. 

Independence

I just wanted everyone to be real. When it concerns individuals that means stop hiding, no more “fake it until you make it.” Be the same person in church as you are at home, at work, at school. We can’t get well if we keep hiding the fact that we’re sick. Worse, we may be flaunting in the world the sickness we hide while we’re at church. The theme passage for City of Refuge came from Matthew 9:12-13: 

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:12–13, NIV)

Sadly, some (too many!) abused this grace and simply continued in their sin. Establishing a church that accepts people as they are without judgment doesn’t mean people should continue living unchanged by God’s amazing grace. Too quickly our City of Refuge became for some a Den of Thieves! “How can we who died to sin live any longer in it!” (Romans 6:1)

When I am exposed to the truth of God’s Word and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, I am changed and become more like Jesus. When you offer grace it is always possible for people to abuse it and use it as tacit acceptance for their bad attitudes and bad behaviors. No judgment doesn’t mean, no evaluation, no appraisal of right and wrong. What it means is I’m not the judge, and neither are you! We’re not even on the jury. I don’t determine your guilt or the punishment for what you may have done.

In reality, I’m here to be a physician’s assistant and Jesus is the doctor. First, I need to get well, then I need to be concerned and compassionate about bringing you to life and health. Jesus said this clearly, and it is intimately part of the same teaching about not judging.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)

I hope and pray that we’ve not lost sight of this as Lifewell Church. It is the reason we came into existence 20 years ago. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. Acceptance and repentance are both essential to being made well by Christ. I cannot live life well when I am sick with sin. I will never come to Christ if I believe I’m too bad, too dirty, or too sick. So, we must accept people as they are, not as we wish they were. We must speak the truth in love and seek to lead people to receive the transforming spiritual life of Jesus Christ. We accept them as Jesus has accepted each of us, and we offer them the living water that will become a life well leaping up from their hearts to eternal life!

but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV)

Freedom

The result of this is genuine freedom, and that may be what most people associate with July 4th. The natural understanding of freedom is, I can do whatever I want. What irony, we think that we’re free when we do what we want when all the time the will is deceived, enslaved to bad habits and destructive desires. What I want falls short of God’s design. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Although sin seems like freedom, it is inextricably tied to death. “The soul that sins will surely die…. For the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23). The Apostle Paul calls this principle the law of sin and death. Jesus taught emphatically that those who sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34). 

Real freedom is not unlimited choice. I am not free when I choose to be something God didn’t design or command. There is a way things, and people, are supposed to be, and that’s not some arbitrary demand superimposed by an autocratic almighty God. There are laws of physics, the universe is fine tuned to an exquisite degree. God created it this way. The same God established what we would call moral laws as well. He gave us a conscience. He revealed a moral code to Moses. He paved the pathway to life through Jesus Christ. Now, the person who comes to Christ fulfills the law and is set free by the Spirit.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, NIV84)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV84)

This is important to understand, to fully realize, and I sought to teach it in those early years, but some failed or refused to receive it. They left preferring a deluded lifestyle, which has resulted in destructive consequences for those who failed to have a change of heart. Once again, I hope and pray that Lifewell receives this truth and lives in God’s intended freedom.

July 4th is an auspicious date, even 20 years later. Lifewell remains a church committed to separation from sanctimonious judgment, bureaucratic religion, empty ritual, and fake faith. We are not independent from our founding denomination, although we have a strong non-denominational outreach. We are committed to the principle of priesthood of the believer, which means that each person is privileged and responsible to relate to God and read the Bible anticipating the Holy Spirit will teach them. This doesn’t mean the individual is independent from the community, rather we are mutually reliant and recognize the gifts and callings of the members of the body. I am a teacher and the overseer of our community of faith. People follow my leadership and teaching as I follow Christ. Finally, we are free! Free to worship in a manner that allows us to speak and be spoken to by God in Spirit and in Truth. We are free to follow our consciences in debatable matters, eating and drinking and dressing and entertainment. We are free from sin and it’s awful consequence: death. Praise God! Happy July 4th Lifewell Church! 

No Fear!

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:3–7, ESV)

The word translated fear may mean cowardice, and it is the opposite of faith (ie. confidence).

It is possible that this was Timothy’s weakness. In the natural he was a timid soul. The Apostle was reminding his son in the faith that he was not alone (even apart from Paul’s presence) the Spirit of Almighty God lived within the young man.

There may a tendency to think of Christians as weak, fearful of conflict, having Father Mulcahey (MASH) or Ned Flanders (Simpsons) temperaments. What my natural temperament is, is irrelevant when I’m filled with the Holy Spirit. He makes me confident.

Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Things were not going smoothly in Ephesus, where Timothy pastored. There was opposition to the Gospel, false teaching, persecution from the pagans and the Jews. If Timothy was to survive, he needed to be filled with the Spirit to have the courage to face all of that stress and difficulty. 

When we’re overwhelmed we don’t feel as though we will overcome. I feel like giving in and giving up. Yet I’m called to conquer (Revelation 2-3). In fact, we are promised that we will “overwhelmingly overcome through Christ who loved us” (Romans 8:37)!

The Holy Spirit makes me secure as a child of the Father. A good earthly father imparts strength and confidence to his children. Security and confidence makes me bold and drives away all fear. I know who has my back, He has given me the right to call him Dad.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” (Romans 8:15, TNIV)

Many are afraid today. The media and those in political power are stirring up hostility and fear. Panic attacks have become commonplace. Many are on medication, use alcohol, or marijuana to keep from being overwhelmed by fear and dread. This is not what a Spirit filled Christian needs or does. 

The devil is the original terrorist. Realize, Satan is a paper tiger, a toothless lion, a defeated foe. Like the defeated Saruman standing in the window of his lofty tower before Gandalf in Tolkien’s LOTR, so our enemy has been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet the devil may still speak with an alluring voice and employ enticing lies. We must recognize his schemes and send him away in the name of Jesus Christ.

We are facing an increasingly hostile world. People are rejecting the Bible, and seeking to stop biblical Christians from speaking out. Sharing the Gospel is not seen as Good News by increasing numbers of people in this country. In the midst of this God is calling you and I to be bold: to grow up and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), then deal with the consequences. When the Holy Spirit has control you will be courageous. Fear God and you will not fear anything or anyone else (Isaiah 8:13).

Don’t be a coward when you are called upon to defend the truth or the name of Jesus. Don’t go along with the crowd: they are moved by the spirit of anti-Christ. You are not of the same sort, not if you genuinely believe and call on Jesus as your Lord. You are not alone, friend. Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” That is a reality when you are indwelt and endowed with the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Power, love, self-control.

These are not natural attributes that I work up: the Holy Spirit infuses me with all three when He fills me. 

Power.

I need power to resist temptation, which weakens me. power to persevere through personal suffering and through persecution from a world that has turned from Christ, power to maintain sanity and stability in a dark, dangerous, unpredictable world.  Much of what we see today is people seeking power through money, politics and popularity.

People are insecure, and this may be true even though someone is arrogant (the latter is a mask for the former). There’s too much big talk in an effort to gain support, to win, to get money. Yet there is no real power behind the constant boasting and bickering. We want to see something really. Also, I must have power to do the work of ministry effectively. I cannot perform miracles or change people’s lives on my own.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). 

I need power to preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit must anoint and ordain and speak through me or I waste my time and yours. This is why we always give people the opportunity to respond to the message on Sunday. Don’t just sit there and evaluate. Decide. Move. Do.

Love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18). When I know I’m loved, I am secure. When I know that God will not allow anything to happen to destroy me, even though I may hurt at times, then I can stand up against anything.

We all need love. Self-love is a surrogate. Love extends away from the self; it doesn’t bend inward. In order to have love I must receive love. Most importantly, I must trust the Father’s love for me. This is the love “God has poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). Jesus new command gives a new basis for loving others: His sacrificial love for us.

“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Christ’s love gives us the example, motivation and strength to love others rather than ignore or fight them.

Self-control. 

This is a special word in Greek, and a much needed character trait.

Barclay writes:

“There was self-discipline. The word is sōphronismos, one of these great untranslatable Greek words. It has been defined as ‘the sanity of saintliness’. In his book on The Pastorals, Sir Robert Falconer defines it as ‘control of oneself in face of panic or of passion’. It is Christ alone who can give us that command of self which will keep us both from being swept away and from running away.

No one can ever rule others without having complete self-control. Sōphronismos is that divinely given control of self which makes people great rulers of others because they are first of all the servants of Christ and in complete control of themselves.”

I really need self-control. Too often I fly off the handle, become enraged on the road, show impatience with my own apparent incompetence and inadequacy. Holy Spirit fill me and grant me this quality! If I cannot or will not lead myself, I cannot lead anyone else. Pray for your pastor in this regard. I need peace and patience, calm confidence and selfless forbearance toward people and situations that irritate and annoy my flesh. I must account the flesh dead and myself reborn in Christ.

Which brings us to today, Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. This is the perfect time to practice self-control, which fundamentally is the ability to say no to my natural self and yes to the Holy Spirit’s leadership