Category Archives: Teaching

Laziness and Socialism

Notes on a study in 2 Thessalonians.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12, ESV)

Laziness is sin. There is a reason sloth was listed among the 7 deadly sins. Idleness promotes temptation. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Consider the bad example of King David in the Bathsheba incident. The good king committed adultery with a woman and had her husband killed. This all began after he failed to go out to battle with his army.

“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel…. It happened late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” (2 Sam. 11:1a, 2, ESV)

‘keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness”

Not only are you and I to avoid laziness, we are to avoid those who live this way. 

Paul offered himself and his companions as the example. The apostle had a practice of refusing gifts from a church during the time he was working to establish it. He often supported himself by working from working as a tentmaker. He exemplified hard work. Only when a church was self-sufficient and Paul had moved to the next mission field, would he accept it’s financial support. We discover this in the Corinthian letters (1 Corinthians 9, 2 Corinthians 11:8).

A possible reason for the problem of laziness in Thessalonica was the belief that Jesus’ return was imminent, and therefore there would be no reason to keep on working a job. Each one of us ought to live every day as though it were our last on earth, whether because we “always keep death in mind,” or because we have our “eyes to the sky” looking for the return of Christ. However, that doesn’t mean I retire and do nothing until the Lord returns.

God expects us to be busy with his work and with investing and remaining involved with our communities. Our situation is like the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. Heaven is our home and primary citizenship. We are exiles and dissidents here on earth. Our duty is to work for the prosperity and benefit of our city and community, to say nothing of the fact that we must make a living for ourselves and our families. 

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)

Sadly, it is far more likely in our time that people are overly focused on this life and take little or no thought for the next. Even so, there is plenty of laziness among some, who want to live idle lives. These seek to “eat, drink and be merry” all the time, but have no desire to work for the means to purchase the food and drink. Some want to live the lifestyle of the idle rich. Here’s a question to test you: What would you do with your life if you won the lotto? With more money available, I would seek to grow this church and put together projects and investments to preach the Gospel. If I had more money available I would be busier than I am now, not building my petty kingdom, but extending God’s!

“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

Paul’s perspective was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Does that sound harsh to you? The precept to learn is: each of us is responsible for providing for ourselves. The government doesn’t owe you a living. Jesus commands us to give to those who ask, but not to support laziness. If you won’t work, you need to feel the consequences of that. Missing a meal or two would serve only to help many. It seems a contradiction when we observe a person who refuses to work—usually with some excuse—who is obese. 

Everyone should be given an opportunity to be supported equitably for their work. Jesus said, “The worker is worthy of his wages” (Matt. 10:10). However, there should be no government or church welfare for those who will not contribute their labor to support themselves and contribute to their community. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had it right when he started the WPA program during the Great Depression. Many people were out of work, so the President gave them government jobs cleaning up roads and improving the nation’s infrastructure. My experience has been that many people who are on welfare and disability could be doing something, but don’t because they won’t. Their primary handicap is not physical but spiritual. They are lazy. They have convinced themselves that they are incapable of doing anything as justification for this sin. I believe the word “can’t” is the most destructive in a person’s vocabulary. Can’t often just times means won’t.

Socialism (and communism) sounds like it promotes justice. The reality is, socialism doesn’t work because there is no incentive for people to work hard, to produce, innovate, or create. A guaranteed job and income results in mediocrity at best. The following is a quote from Peter Hitchens, brother to the famed late atheist celebrity Christopher Hitchens. Peter is a journalist who spent a significant amount of time in the former United Soviet Socialist Republic.

“For the average citizen it was a life lived at a dismally low level materially, ethically and culturally. The Soviet Union may have been a great power, but it was a great power that had diverted its resources into the hands of the state.” (from Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God).

Let’s be clear, taking someone else’s hard earned income and giving it it to those who will not work is theft. Social welfare programs may be necessary to help those who verifiably cannot help themselves. However, any program that rewards laziness is not social justice: it is both unjust and destructive to a healthy thriving economy, as the current situation in Venezuela illustrates. 

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:13–15, ESV)

For doing good we must look to our reward in the next life, for often we may be without in this one. Let the Holy Spirit encourage you to continue doing good and glorifying God. Be satisfied with little, even during times when you have much. 

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-7)

“and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed”

Shun lazy, or immoral, or rebellious supposed Christians (see also Matt. 18:17, 2 Tim. 3:5, 1 Cor. 5:9, 2 Jn. 10). Paul even states we should not eat with such people (1 Cor. 5:11). 

“Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother”

We are not placing ourselves above and beyond those who are walking in sin. The purpose is to highlight their need to change. Be open and forgiving if the person repents or genuinely seeks help to change.

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You Can Be Less Fat & More Fit

Fitness is more than how thin you are, but I believe a good start (probably the best place to begin) is with a change in your diet, which results in a leaner body. A lean body is better for many reasons: less prone to heart disease, increased longevity, avoidance of type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, joint problems and a host of other complications which result from hauling around too much body fat every day.

It’s not popular to say this, but neither is it a secret: many people are simply carrying too much body fat. Perhaps you are one of them. Notice, I didn’t say “too heavy.” It’s not about weight; it’s about body fat percentage. The average American carries between 28-40% body fat (and it may be worse today, since that stat is from a study done 15-20 years ago!). That is not healthy. Not at all.

One year ago my body fat was around 23% at a weight of just over 170 lbs. I’m around 71 inches tall. I wasn’t terribly unhealthy, but I was getting there gradually. You see, everything accumulates over time, whether fitness or fatness. In 2012 I had gotten down to 7% body fat, was lifting weights and running regularly. I felt great! Then I broke my clavicle doing incline presses and that slowed the weights down considerably. I was discouraged. I stopped running. My diet gradually got less healthy. I still went to the gym a couple of times per week, but my workouts weren’t enough to burn off the additional calories.

The difference over a five year span was a gain of 16% body fat, which translates to around 20 lbs on my frame. That’s an annual gain of a little over three percent fat, or a mere four pounds each year. Consider, if I had gone another decade I could have been carrying around the high average of 40% body fat. NO THANKS!

I took a look at myself in the mirror at 23% and didn’t like what I saw. I looked like a round, slightly lumpy snowman. I knew what I could look like when healthy and fit. I knew it was going to take some work to get back. It did! I’ve journaled about that process here, so you can look back at those blogs if you’d like. The picture I’ve included in this entry is a screenshot I took this morning from a body fat calculator on my mobile device. To use the app you still need body fat calipers, and, yes, you need to weigh yourself. Currently I weight around 145 and am carrying about 5.5% body fat. Did I mention I’m 56 years old…

If your sex is male, and you’re not an elite athlete, then you should aim for 10-15% body fat. If your sex is female and not competing in some sport, aim for 20-25%. If you need to be leaner for a sport (I am a martial arts instructor), then you may seek to go lower. However, men shouldn’t get below 4% or women below about 9%. You do need some body fat. I am keeping mine between 5-7% because I want to stay at that level of fitness to teach my karate’ class. That, and I like how I look and feel when I’m this lean.

So, what’s the secret? Did I do Keto? Count calories? Fasting? Run an hour a day? Overall friends, although it’s hard at first to apply the self-control, the concept is really very simple: you get fatter when you eat more, and you get thinner when you eat less. You also get fatter when you’re less active, while still eating the same, and you get leaner when you’re more active without increasing the amount you eat. Everything accumulates over time, fitness or fatness.

Duh? Well, why do we read so much disinformation when it comes to this? People want to believe, “You can eat whatever you want and lose the weight!” No, you can’t. Don’t buy it (metaphorically or literally). There are many paths to the goal of losing fat, and there are variables, but the truth is your body carries more fat when it doesn’t burn the excess (yes, I’m going to use a bad word here) CALORIES you’re consuming.

So, do you want to get fit? Start with your diet. You need to establish a healthy diet. If you want less fat, then you need to eat fewer calories. You need to cut out the sugar and starch. You need to schedule your eating.

Next, you need to move more. Find a form of exercise you will do regularly: walk, swim, bike, lift weights, get into an aerobics class, learn and practice a sport like basketball or an art like karate’ or yoga. Aim for 30-40 minutes of vigorous activity five or six days per week.

Do you want help? Coaching? I’m considering doing that for people in the near future, so stay tuned…

Apostasy and the Man of Sin

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, ESV)

The Rebellion

Literally, Apostasy or falling away. The Apostasy or Rebellion is a large scale turning away from God’s Law, and from faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son.

“Since the reference here is to a world-wide rebellion against divine authority at the end of the age, the ideas of political revolt and religious apostasy are combined.”  -FF Bruce (Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Thessalonians)

“This rebellion, which will take place within the professing church, will be a departure from the truth that God has revealed in His Word. True, apostasy has characterized the church almost from its inception, but Paul referred to a specific distinguishable apostasy that will come in the future”   -Walvoord/Zuck (Bible Knowledge Commentary).

This is what we are seeing in the USA now, and what has been happening in the Christian lands of the West beginning in the 1700s. There is a great falling away from faith in Jesus Christ, which founded Western Civilization. We re primed for a strongman to take over and change times, laws, morals and values. Academia, the Entertainment Industry, the most powerful corporations, all have turned against Christianity in our time. The most alarming apostasy, however is in the church. Mainline denominations turned away from confidence in the Bible 50-100 years ago. Now those same nominally Christian organizations have turned toward the validation and celebration of sexual immorality and the culture of death (abortion industry). Increasingly they reject the miraculous, acts of Jesus, his resurrection, and even his deity. This last certainly marks them as apostate, not part of God’s chosen people. The essential confession of faith is: Jesus is Lord. Apart from that no one is saved.

Man of Lawlessness

This figure has a several names in the New Testament, two here: Man of Lawlessness (also translated Man of Sin) and Son of Destruction (also Son of Perdition). John calls this figure the Anti-Christ, and in Revelation The Beast. In Daniel, the Little Horn (7:8). Jesus quoted Daniel in calling this leader’s image the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24:15, cf Dan. 11:31, 36)

There are numerous examples of powerful political leaders who opposed the faithful up to this point and beyond.

Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” (Daniel 11:31, ESV) This was Antiochus Epiphanes who abolished sacrifices, set up an altar to Zeus, offered pigs blood on it and punished those who circumcised their children.

Antiochus Ephiphanes may be the archetype, and we may read of him in the so called Apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, which Roman Catholics and others accept, but which were rejected as canon by the Jews and by most Bible believing Christians.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals,  to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.” (1 Maccabees 1:41-50)

Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.” (1 Maccabees 54-60)

 

Near the time of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica the Emperor Gaius, also known as Caligula was in power. He insisted that he be known as a god. Other emperors, beginning with Augustus were deified after death, but Caligula insisted on being worshiped. He decreed that a statue of him be erected in the Temple at Jerusalem, but was assassinated in AD 41 before these orders could be carried out. This would certainly be fresh on the minds of Paul and his readers.

In both of these notorious leaders (Antiochus and Caligula) we find an initial fulfillment of the prophecy about the Abomination of Desolation in the temple (Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11). Evidently there will be a greater example, and a final fulfillment of this prophecy immediately prior to the return of Christ.

Next there was Nero, who persecuted and martyred Christians in Rome. Coating Christians with pitch and burning them to light his garden.

Then there was Domitian, who insisted on being referred to as “Dominus et Deus,” Lord and God.

The first empire-wide persecution occurred under Decius circa AD 250.

The worst persecution was the last under Diocletian circa AD 300.

Throughout history other anti-Christs like Hitler have murdered millions of Christians and/or Jews.

But none of these has been the ultimate and final fulfillment of Anti-Christ. That one is still to come.

Characteristics of the Anti-Christ to watch out for:

  1. Powerful world leader with absolute global authority (Revelation 13:1-10).
  2. Rejects Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah and God’s Son come in the flesh (1 Jn. 2:22, 3:2-3) 
  3. Exalts him/herself as God or a god, and will demand and receive worship from everyone (above Daniel 11:36, Revelation 13:8).
  4. Opposes the Bible’s revelation of right and wrong.
  5. Changes the calendar and the law to reflect rejection of Christian and Jewish faith (Daniel 7:25)
  6. His image will be set up in the Temple (Daniel 11:31). I believe that this will be his demand for ultimate allegiance from everyone, which amounts to setting up his image in the hearts of people. We see examples of this in Communist N. Korea today, ie Dear Leader Kim Young Un.
  7. He will even be given authority to make war and successfully conquer God’s people for a short time (Rev. 13:7)

God’s Will Is for His People to be Holy

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is an admonition for us. Christians must be holy, and that is a process. In the sexually immoral culture of 1st century Rome it was necessary to emphasize that holiness includes sexual purity. So important was this issue that it was one of the few prohibitions contained in the circular letter from the Jerusalem Counsel, a formal meeting that was called to determine the relationship between Gentiles and the Mosaic Law.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:5-6, ESV)
James, the half-brother of Jesus and Pastor of the Jerusalem church, came up with the language in the brief circular letter of response.
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19–20, ESV)
Here we find one prohibition to avoid offending primarily the Gentiles: “abstain from things polluted by idols.” Then there are two prohibitions against practices that would offend the Jews: “abstain from what has been strangled and from blood.” Finally, there is the prohibition against sexual sin, which was more prevalent among Gentiles, but equally relevant to Jews, and to us.

Learn to control your *vessel, which is to say your body, especially what we today would call your sexuality. We must control the body and the sexual urges of an old, fallen nature. If you belong to Jesus, then it is not your body any longer, even if you continue in management over it.
“The body must be treated as the Lord’s property and not used as a means of wanton self-indulgence.” (Bruce)

“not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”

Those who pursue sexual immorality do so to the exclusion of knowing or experiencing God. Pursuing sexual passion is often the surrogate for the indwelling intimacy of knowing God, which is why it is common among those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. It is the highest form of pleasure that they know. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, and many in the world are hedonists. Sexual desire consumes many people, so much so that they are willing to risk reputation, career, family and even their lives to pursue and fulfill it. Yet it is insatiable. It is never fulfilled. Only those with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom will be capable of accepting this truth and denying themselves in order to become what God wills them to be: pure and holy vessels, filled to overflow with God’s love and life.

So, how could someone who has experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit turn back to worthless desires when infinite joy is offered to them in Christ? As a pastor and a former youth pastor I’ve watched many young people trade their supposed commitment to Christ for sexual immorality. The result is a once spiritually sensitive and alive young person hardens their heart and becomes dead inside. They have little or no interest in Jesus. It’s all in what you choose to believe, or who you choose to believe in. Do you believe God’s word or your feelings? Do you believe in Jesus Christ or yourself?

“that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter”

We must not take advantage of another. In context this refers first to adultery, which is taking advantage of one or both partners in a marriage covenant. Let us say a man is having an affair with a willing woman. In so doing, he wrongs her husband. However, he also enables his illicit sexual partner to commit sin. A follower of Jesus encourages and empowers others to overcome sin; he is not a stumbling block into it.

Sexual morality distinguished the church from the Roman world.
“Christianity from the outset has sanctified sexual union within marriage (as in Judaism); outside marriage it was forbidden. This was a strange notion in the pagan society to which the gospel was first brought; there various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged.” (FF Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary)
Over time, Christians changed the sexual ethos in the Roman Empire, as they did in other important areas such as respect for life and protection of the weak. It was a common practice in Rome to simply leave a baby exposed to die if the parents didn’t want it.

In America and around the world today, it is acceptable to kill a baby in the womb. This is an extension of our value of personal freedom, pleasure and profit. I don’t want my freedom limited. I don’t want to take responsibility for the life I’ve pro-created. So, I terminate it. If Christians obey the commandment of God regarding sex, they will not find themselves in a situation where a sexual partner determines that the life of a baby must be taken in order to preserve their freedom or reputation.

We must not take on the sexual ethos of our dying culture. It has gone back, like a dog to it’s vomit, and like a pig to the mud-hole, to immoral practices, which Christian influence had brought into disfavor for nearly two millennia. Today, some churches are  embracing sexual immorality and gender confusion as a norm to be accepted, even blessed. Re-read the biblical text from 1st Thessalonians above. We are to be holy, separate, different than our culture. We follow the design of our Creator, which Jesus himself affirmed.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Therefore, sexual immorality is not God’s creation, and this includes homosexuality and manifold transgender identifications. That said, biblical Christians must be merciful, gentle and understanding when communicating, “speaking the truth in love” to those who identify or are struggling with issues of sexual confusion. Understanding and grace don’t  constitute a change in sexual ethics however. We have no right to reorder God’s design of male and female, marriage and sexual expression in order to make those who struggle feel better. When it concerns sexual practice, the follower of Jesus must stand out as an example of moral integrity and sexual purity.
“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:25, ESV)

“The Lord is the avenger”

Notice, there is a coming consequence for sexual immorality. Even those in the ancient world were wise enough to fear the consequences of adultery. Consider the cases of Abraham and his son Isaac. First, there was Abraham, who told the Egyptians that his wife was his sister to keep them from killing him and taking her. Pharaoh indeed took Sarah into his harem. In consequence, the people of Pharaoh’s house were subject to a plague. When the Egyptian ruler discovered that Sara was actually married to Abraham, he admonished the patriarch: “So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’” (Genesis 12:18–19, ESV)
Like father, like son. Years later Isaac pulled the same trick with another local king. This ruler feared God and admonished Isaac about the lie, then warned everyone to stay away from Rebecca under penalty of death (see Genesis 26:6-11).

The question is, why have we become so foolish? Why is adultery becoming increasingly acceptable with the advent of websites that promote it, so called open marriages and the like? The answer is simple, many in our world no longer fear God.

There are consequences for sexual immorality: sickness, disease, depression, spiritual insensitivity and a hardened heart towards God. These all come upon the sexual sinner. Then she must stand before God to give an answer, and that is what should truly inspire fear. Judgment Day is coming, and we must all give an answer for what we’ve done in the body, good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10, Rom. 14:10, Heb. 9:27). This fact alone should cause even the most sexually profligate, calloused person to fear God and apply self-control, regardless of feelings or identifications.

This applies all the more to those who would molest or take advantage of someone weaker, even if the weaker partner goes along with sexual activity. It is always wrong for an adult to be involved with a minor sexually. The teacher has power over the student, even if they are not that far apart in age. A 20-something has power over a teenager, even if she is 16 or 17. Willingness may quickly turn to disgust, shame and anger. Sex leaves a permanent mark, and this is especially true when the person exposed to it is young and inexperienced.

It is also wrong to take advantage of someone who is financially needy by offering money for sex. The person may go along, but the one paying or bribing them has the greater guilt, since he is also a stumbling block.
Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6, ESV)

We each have pet sins. We have weaknesses. Sexual immorality is often that sin or weakness. However, as Christians we are called to represent Jesus. As the Apostle Paul states elsewhere, “Let not sexual immorality be named among you as is proper for God’s saints… or “don’t let a hint of immorality be seen among you” (see Eph. 5:3). Instead, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).

“God has not called us to impurity but in sanctification”

A former member of this church made a confession on Facebook some time ago. He stated that he now wanted to pursue a sexually immoral lifestyle, even though continuing to identify himself as a follower of Christ. I responded that the two pursuits are mutually exclusive (to negative reactions from some of his friends). Here we have evidence of what I said: God has not called us to impurity. You may feel an urge to follow some desire, some lifestyle, but that urge is not God calling you. It is the flesh, the world and the enemy of our souls pulling you away from God and His purpose for you.

At its root, impurity is not just sexual in nature: it is a divided loyalty, a divided mind. God has not called anyone to be what he clearly prohibits in Scripture. We live in a fallen world. I have no doubt that someone may be deeply enthralled and inured by sexual immorality. Calling it a “sexual orientation” is a redefinition that makes it seem natural. Sex is a powerful motivator that reinforces behavior associated with it. Those who practice sexual immorality are shaped by the practice, even if that is private in nature. They bend their minds and emotions toward a delusion, then believe that it is real, normal and even created by God. God did not create, nor does he ordain what is perverse and inordinate according to his revealed will, and many times obvious in nature. God has not called you to commit adultery. God has not called you to follow homosexual desire, or to pursue a homosexual relationship. God has not called you to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and live as though you were married. He has called you to holiness, and that means you must be different than our dying, disordered, anti-Christ culture. You must be different than your friends and colleagues. You must be like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will give you the conviction and the confidence to do so, unless you push him away…

“Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

The Spirit of God is holy, and those who belong to Christ are inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. There is a fundamental incompatibility between pursuing sexual sin—of any kind: homosexual expression, adultery, fornication—and being led by the Holy Spirit. When you go on in sin–although our culture accepts and celebrates it–you grieve the Holy Spirit. You are hardening your heart against God and his leadership. This is a very dangerous game. The Holy Spirit gently convicts you of sin, but you harden yourself to this and excuse your behavior as being part of your nature, justify the sin as acceptable; in fact, you may even justify the desire or tendency as coming from God. God created me this way. No, friend. Now you’ve moved into the most dangerous territory, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, where you call right what the Bible teaches and the Spirit convicts is wrong.

I believe God is merciful. I don’t believe making mistakes, sexual or otherwise, disqualifies you from heaven. However, I read soberly passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein the Apostle Paul clearly states that those who practice sin will not inherit heaven.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NKJV)

Fasting to Reset

Many of you are aware that I finished a 10 day juice fast recently. The beginning of the year is a good time to fast. It is a time to push the reset button on our lives, and fasting is a tool that can help you begin again.

 The following are some 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-  Believing is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Believing genuinely means I am willing to do something about it. Additionally, faith must endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. When Jesus cast out the spirit that afflicted the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). Not everything happens instantly. In fact, many issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. 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 just 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. Fast as an Act of Desperation (Joel 2:17-21) –  Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? I must repent and come to an end of myself 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). 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?

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 Diet- 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.

Suggested fasts

A. Fast and pray for a day.

  • Rise before 6 AM and eat a breakfast of fruit and oatmeal (cooked raw oats is best), use honey to sweeten the oats.
  • From 6 AM until 6 PM drink only water. Drink at least 8 oz. every hour.
  • After 6 PM eat a healthy dinner with plenty of vegetables. Go easy on the fatty meats.

B. Daniel Fast for 10 days.

  • Eat only vegetables and a little fruit for 10 days. Focus on leafy greens and cruciferous (broccoli & cauliflower) vegetables, prefer organic.
  • Drink only water for 10 days. No soda, coffee, or tea. Vegetable or fruit juice is acceptable if it is 100% pure.
  • NO SUGAR
  • Once the 10 day test is done, you may decide to go to 21 or even 40 days. For longer fasts be sure to include beans, brown rice, pea or other vegan protein sources. Pastor D supplemented using Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein powder in water or almond milk.

C. Juice Fast for anywhere from one to ten days.

  • Do not do this for more than one day until you have done “A” above and prayed.
  • Try it for one day, then break, then three before you go longer.
  • Drink 90% vegetable juices made with a juice extractor ($50 – 100 appliance).
  • Drink juice every two hours and water in the hours between.
  • Again, no coffee or tea, and NO SUGAR or other sweeteners.
  • Organic vegetables are preferred.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles.

•Be consistent. Discipline requires consistency to take hold and be effective.

•Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.

•If you make a commitment to God, keep it. Better not to vow than to vow and not keep it.

•It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.

Jesus is the Reason… for Everything Good

My message for Christmas Eve 2017 as delivered at Lifewell Church in historic downtown Garland.

Six Symbols of Christmas

Christmas is all about Jesus. He is the reason for the season,
and for everything good in the world.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
(Colossians 1:15-17).
And we who believe should live our lives for him.
“Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him.”
(Colossians 3:17)
Tonight I want to tell you about the Symbols of Christmas.

You see, they’re all about Jesus.

1. Christmas Carols
What is a /Carol/? “a song, especially of joy.”
May have begun with St. Francis of Assisi a 12th century monk who established the Franciscan order. Pope Francis is named after this saint.
However, long before Saint Francis believers are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to “Let the message of Christ live in you richly. Sing songs hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord, with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). We’re also told not to get drunk but to be filled with the Spirit, “speak to one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19).
The best Christmas carols are worship songs.
O, Come Emanuel captures the longing of advent and our desire for the Lord Jesus to return and save us from this fallen world.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is about the magi who came t see Jesus. Listen to this line
God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day
to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray
O, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
O, tidings of comfort and joy.
/*Christmas carols were my first praise and worship songs.*/
I memorized that long before I became a Christian, but after I gave my heart to Jesus the words jumped out at me.

2. Christmas Tree
Garland, wreaths = evergreen, eternal life.
During his ministry Jesus was in the Temple during Hanukkah and said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me” (John 10:28).
Greenery was used for celebrations in winter as early as the Roman times. Like many pagan symbols and celebrations Christians converted the evergreen understanding it to represent the eternal life the Son of God gives. Martin Luther brought boughs into his house and placed candles in them, believing it looked like the starry night sky. He had a Christmas tree and sang carols to his children.

The evergreen also reminds me of something that never grows old. In the Psalms we are promised that the Lord, “fills all your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle” (103:5). The eagle is used as an analogy because it is strong, lively and soars above the mundane earth.
Give your life to Jesus and you’ll be youthful and ever green!

3. Creche or Nativity Scene
Of course Jesus was born in Bethlehem and there wasn’t any room for him at the Inn or in the guest room of any home. That’s why Jesus’ cradle was a manger, or feeding trough. But the Nativity Scene with animals, shepherds and wise men is actually another creation of Francis of Assisi! He loved animals and they used live ones in the first Manger Scene.
“On Christmas Eve 1223, in order to ‘Set before our bodily eyes … how he [Jesus] lay in a manger,’ Francis and his companions worshiped in a cave near Greccio, Italy, surrounded by the traditional oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/christmas-traditions.html

4. Santa Claus
His original name is Nicholas, and a long time ago he was actually the Bishop, or Senior Pastor of a church in a city called Myra, which is in modern Turkey. Nicholas loved Jesus and he loved to give. The first gifts he gave were gold coins. He wanted to help three poor young girls get married, so he secretly slipped bags of gold through their window at night. One story says that some of the coins fell into their stockings as they dried above the fireplace.
Now you know why children sometimes get gifts in their stockings.
There have been many churches and cathedrals named after Nicholas, and the Catholic church recognized him as a saint. When you say “Saint Nicholas” really fast you can see how his name got changed to Santa Claus! What you need to remember is, Saint Nicholas really loves Jesus!

5. Christmas Presents
Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
It’s simple, really, God gave his son, and that inspires people to give.
The three Wise Men travelled 900 miles from Persia, modern Iraq, just to honor the newborn king. They gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Saint Nicholas gave those three young ladies the money to get married and has been known as a gift-giver since.
There’s just something about grace that prompts us to give.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

6. Christmas Lights
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).
Jesus is not like a spotlight blinding you, but a beautiful light leading you to heaven. We follow Jesus and live our lives like he lived his: unselfish, giving, and caring for other people. If we follow his example we can’t go wrong. But we don’t always follow Jesus, do we? That’s why we have to believe in him and receive him in our hearts.

We put our faith in Jesus and his love for us. We believe he was born in a stable, grew up and lived the perfect life we’re supposed to but don’t. He is the perfect Savior who took our sins upon him. The Bible says: “He who knew no sin became our sin,” then he died on the cross to pay their price because “the wages of sin is death.” And as a result we who are believers “become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus conquered sin and death and rose on the third day. That’s what Easter is about. Without the resurrection of Easter we probably wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas. You and I would still be slaves to sin, subject to death. But Jesus is alive, so we can say, “Death where is your victory, where is your sting!? Jesus offers you the greatest gif of all: eternal life! He will come and live in your heart. All you have to do is believe in him, call out to him, invite him. Jesus said, “Look! I stand at the door and knock, if anyone will open the door, I will come into him and we will dine together. Invite Jesus into your heart, then follow the light of the world, who lives in your heart.

What are you all about?
Is your Christmas celebration really about Jesus, or something else? Is your life all about Jesus, or someone else? Why don’t you make a change tonight, and really put your faith in Jesus. Start living your life, so that: “Whatever you do in word or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though him” (Colossians 3:17)?

Modified Juice Fast

Today is day nine of my fast. That’s farther than I’ve ever gone before on a fast. I’ve lost about eight pounds. I don’t know that my scale is accurate in determinig body fat, because it would seem from what it calculated previously I should be lower, but according to this scale, I’ve cracked into the 15% range.

Yesterday I met my weight goal for this week, and I converted to a traditional no food fast, drinking only water. This part of the fast is for God, not me. I dropped coffee three days ago and all caffeine yesterday. This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I don’t want to be addicted to anything. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Caffeine has a way of getting a hold that is not easily shaken. I detox on it periodically, usually for Lent. Normally, it takes two weeks before I can completely drop all caffeinated substances, reducing the amount gradually. If I go cold turkey, I get terrible migranes that no pain reliever will stop. When I stopped drinking coffee two days ago, I expected to drink green tea (less caffeine) in its place until the caffeine addiction ended. I drank two cups that day, and it was that night that I prayed and determined to do a full fast with no juice. I told God that if he was behind this he could show me by keeping  the headaches away. He did! I haven’t had any side effects from eliminating the caffeine altogether. This is a big deal for me.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of praying, and I’ve been reading the book God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. There are many reasons for fasting, and many benefits as well. I’ve written about it, and have observed six. The first I’ll mention is the last in importantance, but the reason I began this one, Diet. I’ve benefitted by losing weight, ending caffeine addiction, increasing my water and micronutrient intake (the latter applies only to juice fasting), and there are many other benefits.

Here are five more reasons to fast.

Fast as an Act of Dedication–  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted after his baptism and prior to entering into his ministry. Perhaps he did this to gain confirmation and clarity by intensely focusing on God.  By denying the body what it needs most I am saying that something else–in this case Someone–is more important than me.

Fast as an Exercise of Discipline–  Learn to say no to “me.” All of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness were for him to act expediently and egotistically. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. My body cries out for food, but I say no. This teaches me to say no in other areas where my earthly nature (or “flesh”) cries out. It teaches me to resist temptation.

Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence– Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation. “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). I am dependent upon food for survival. I transfer my fundamental dependence from a substance to the Sustainer of life.

Fast to Establish Determination–  Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). I fast for a breakthrough, as Daniel did when he needed God to answer his prayer for this people (Daniel 9:3). I fast to prove I am serious, both to myself and to God. This has been the main purpose of converting my juice fast to water only at the end.

Fast as an Act of Desperation–  Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah & Ninevah). I have the need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel10:2-3 & 21 days of prayer). Repentance may be part of fasting. Joel called a fast for the people when disaster loomed (Joel 2:12, 15). This includes mourning for sin, and prayer for transformation. I have been doing some of this too.

Well, tomorrow will be the end of my fast. I’ll likely end the water portion earlier. As of this writing, that has lasted about 35 hours and has been a physical challenge. I’m praying and monitoring my body and the Lord’s response. Either way, I’ll end the juice fast sometime tomorrow. I’m praying for a big breakthrough in my life and in the life of my church. I am praying for both of our Christmas services to be filled with people who are seeking God and willing to respond to him. I’m praying that we will have Spirit filled worship. I am praying that our church will grow in the new year. Fasting and praying, and praying. Seeing that the Lord has responded obviously by ending my caffeine addiciton, I have encouragement that he will respond to these more significant requests.

Amen.