All Honor to the King
By Edwin E Thompson (Appendix E)
True Success and Purpose in Life
One of the most important questions in the Bible is, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole World and loses his own soul?" In other words, what profit is there if in the end all is lost?
Another Biblical teaching that amplifies the above question is that God allows man to have their selfish desires but the consequences are leanness to their souls. For a season, God may grant us our desires but if the ultimate outcome is bitterness, hatred, loneliness, and death, it seems prudent for us to come to a solid understand of what is true success in life.
So, what is true success? What do we want to accomplish? What should we try to accomplish? What does God want us to accomplish "success"? Why has God placed me in this time, this place, and in this family? The answers to these and many other similar questions are all closely related to what we personally define as genuine success.
Once any question is presented, the source of any answers becomes important. Certainly, truths taught in the Bible are at the top of the list for providing accurate answers. Often time's older and wiser men can be helpful. Another potential source of wisdom is to closely observe the cause and effects of people's lives. Since we all face death, it is fairly safe to say that in the end, just about everyone lives and responds to life challenges according to their definition of "true success". They may not verbalize what they consider to be important but the results of most people's lives become their living testimonies. Their reaction to both failures and successes can be insightful declarations of what they truly felt was of value.
The first Christian man that had influence in my life was a fellow who was extremely excited to accomplish great things for God. He knew what he wanted, was very talented and capable and worked hard to accomplish his goals. At the time it seemed as if he knew the right answers to life and especially what success was. He had a great family, and as a pastor he was a very interesting and effective Bible teacher.
However, apparently, this fellow's zeal for God made some folks uncomfortable. It wasn't long before he was asked to leave his pastoral position. This pattern repeated a number of times over the next several years. Ultimately, he became so discouraged and bitter toward God that he committed suicide. Obviously this was quite a shock and my initial conclusion was that he apparently just allowed himself to become bitter. Ultimately the validity of his goals of accomplishing great things for God came into question.
During my College years I was involved in a campus ministry and was also active in a local Church. It wasn't long before I met a number of men who were very focused on accomplishing great things for God. One fellow, about my own age, went to seminary and later became a pastor. Even as a young pastor, God gave him tremendous success in his ministry. We were thankful because he had paid a high personal price to finish Seminary, and apparently, God was rewarding his efforts. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of service he became involved in an immoral relationship and was booted out of ministry. Similar to the physical act of suicide, I later came to view his actions as moral, career, and apparently spiritual suicide.
Fortunately, not all of the men that I have known have had such a negative message through their life. One of the most positive examples was truly a Godly man. He had a fantastic family and responsibly raised Godly children. He was extremely well respected and represented the type of character that we should all strive for. No doubt his character and his love for others was a shining beacon to those around him. However, while only being in his mid 40's he was suddenly struck with a severe heart attack and died on the spot. There has always been a shortage of Godly men. I still wonder what God's purpose was for taking such a good man at such a young age. It seems like this Godly man could have gone on to accomplish great things for God.
Another Christian man, whose life is well worth mentioning, also has a sterling character. One of the ways that he was outstanding was his consistent weekly memorization and meditation of God's Word. Many talk about the importance of God's Word but he was one of the few men that I have known that consistently memorized and meditated on scripture. If given the opportunity, I would have predicted that this man would have accomplished great things for God's Kingdom. However, God allowed him to be struck with a debilitating disease. A disease that not only tremendously hampered him from accomplishing much physically but even his brain and nervous systems has been so effected that it became impossible for him to memorize scripture for several of his last years.
It is always easy to find individual examples but even the persecution of the early Church follows this pattern. When the Christian Church was in its infancy, a critical time to spread the Gospel to the whole World, the apostles played a key role in advancing the Gospel. And yet, God allowed tremendous persecution and martyrdom to occur. Is God's hand weak and His arm so short that He couldn't protect His children? His Church? Certainly not! But, this leaves the question, "What is God's purpose for us as individual Christians?" While we tend to want to aspire to accomplish great things, apparently God's purpose for most of our lives is quite different than what we naturally think.
Every apostle except John was martyred. Wouldn't it have been more "efficient" to build the Church and to spread the Gospel if God would have provided better protection for the apostles and the Church? Wouldn't the apostles have been much more effective if they would have lived long and influential lives? Apparently, God is just not as concerned about our individual impact for His Kingdom as we are.
When I was younger and even now, it seems like accomplishing great things for God's Kingdom should certainly be placed high on the list of living a successful life. Throughout the history of the World it is fairly obvious that there is a constant struggle between good and evil. And given that Godly men who have a desire to honor and serve God are relatively scarce, it seems like God would allow such men to have a much greater impact. However, looking at these and other men's lives, their successes and failures, their desires, and the challenges that God allowed into their lives, the goal of accomplishing great things for God's Kingdom certainly raises significant questions.
So, if having an impact for God's Kingdom isn't God's ultimate purpose for each of our lives, then the question must be, what does God truly desire from us? What does God desire for us?
This is the first part of a three part series addressing the challenge, no- the commandment that Jesus Christ gave the Church and to each of us in Matt 28:18-20 to disciple the nations. This section introduces our individual relationship with Jesus Christ. The second section expands the relationship with Jesus Christ to the area of family and children. The third section presents challenges for the Church and the importance of impacting Civil Governments. While every section is independent, each one is built upon the principles of the previous sections. The ultimate goal is to bring all honor to the Lord Jesus Christ, The King!
Chapter 1: What is God's purpose for us?:
Understanding what God's purpose for our life is integral with understanding God's definition of true success.
The challenge of "creating" love:
The Bible doesn’t explicitly explain why God created the World and man but the Bible does provide a number of clues to these questions. One short answer that is very consistent throughout the Bible is that God desires a friendship, built upon mutual love between God and man. Therefore, it is important for us to understand the nature of genuine love if we are to understand our relationship with God and to be able to answer many of the other critical questions in life.
While the creation of man, the World and the Universe are absolutely spectacular creations, the “creation” of genuine love is a considerably more difficult achievement because genuine love cannot just be "programmed".
God created man in His image so there are a number of similarities between God and man. Creativity is one of God's characteristics that inspires man. Another characteristic of man is "self awareness". Probably the closest creation of man that will ever potentially be "self aware" is a software program. Currently, computer programs are not even close to being "self aware" but if they ever advance to the state where they are, it is probably impossible to program genuine “love”.
We can set up our computers to proclaim “love” to us. However, we intuitively understand that this is not genuine love but merely a programmed response. God had a similar challenge when He created Adam. Even as fantastic as the creation of Adam was, any “love” that he may have initially expressed to God was fundamentally only a programmed response rather than an actual chosen decision by Adam to express love.
By definition, God knows all things and He certainly understood the consequences of allowing Adam “the knowledge of good and evil”. But, it is this “ability” of choice that is essential for man to be able to truly love God.
The expression of genuine love requires the choice between man loving himself or loving God. The greater the cost is to express love, the greater the value of love. If there is little or no sacrifice involved then the value of love is not significant. So, when God gave man “free will” He did not give an artificial or watered down choice. The choice between loving God or anyone other than ourselves comes at an extremely high personal price by God's design. If God desired "robots" there was no need for God to create man with such a strong self centered nature.
These truths are clearly defined in the Great Commandment, where loving God and others is basically choosing to put them ahead of our natural self centered interests. And as the history of the World has shown, the self centeredness, (or greed) of man has been the primary foundation of human desire. It is this self centeredness that has produced countless wars and tremendous atrocities. While, such activities definitely grieve God, the knowledge of "good and evil" is apparently necessary for man to be able to truly love God and others.
If we were to only come to understand the importance of man’s love for God we could easily develop a perspective that man really means very little to Him. That there is some hidden agenda or possibly some dependency that God needs from man. This appears to be the perspective of most who worship “man-made” religions because not a single one of these religions presents any evidence that their gods actually loves man in return. These religions are “one way streets”. Some may claim that the god/s of their religion loves those who worship and honor man in return, but there is very little or no historical evidence that any such claims of love from these manmade gods are valid. Without a substantial demonstration of God’s love to man, man just becomes a “pawn” to worship God.
However, in the case of Jesus Christ, He did make a substantial sacrifice, one that was extremely painful and costly to Himself. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was not only to redeem mankind, but a tremendous demonstration of His love for people who are by nature extremely self centered and hostile towards God. Of all of the religions in the World, only the God of the Bible has demonstrated that He sincerely loves man. A love that is given to us, even while we are God’s very enemies, (Rom 5:8).
A Biblical truth that we don’t fully comprehend is the three parts of one God, the Trinity. It is important to consider that God is perfect and holy and cannot tolerate sin. So, when Jesus Christ willingly stood between the sins of the World and the Holy God, this demonstrated tremendous love. The physical pain and agony of the cross was incredible but bearing the penalty for man's sins can only be understood when we are able to grasp the significance of Jesus Christ's words, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt 27:46).
Before the cross, Jesus Christ experienced perfect harmony within the Godhead. But through His death on the cross Jesus Christ stood between the full force of God's holy wrath and the sins of the World. Jesus Christ knowingly and willingly acted out of love towards us and as a result felt the negative impact of the sins of the World. It is impossible for us to fully understand the depth of love and the consequences that Jesus Christ demonstrated towards us. While the innocent blood of Jesus Christ allows us to experience the benefits of His perfect righteousness, for the rest of eternity Jesus Christ will endure the scars from our sins. What a tremendous demonstration of God's love for man.
And not surprising, as a result of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, obedience and demonstration of love towards man on God’s behalf, God desires that Jesus Christ be honored above all else. Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, (Phil 2:10). Jesus said that “all authority has been given to me in heaven and in earth”, (Matt 28:18-20). All authority! (Refer to Appendix C and H for a Biblical description of who Jesus Christ is).
Some basically teach that all that is needed to become right before God is to say a simple prayer. Sometimes the attitude is almost that this is a little formula to follow and that there is “magic” when the name of Jesus is invoked. However, Romans 10:9 instructs us that we must “confess” Jesus as “Lord” before God will honor His promise to begin a relationship between us. The definition, of “confessing Jesus as Lord” means that we place God above and before our own wants and desires. It is not the prayer that prompts God to honor His promises to redeem us but our sincere acknowledgements of desiring to “love” Him with a genuinely repentant heart. Or in other words, for us to desire to demonstrate our love to God by placing God's authority in our lives over our own selfish desires. When we genuinely humble ourselves before God, He then allows His Spirit to enter into our spirits and we are born again.
There are numerous advantages of having a close relationship with God, the creator of the Universe. But, even with such a fantastic gift from God, there is a tremendous obstacle preventing man from receiving this gift. And this obstacle is that man is so self centered that every fiber of his being opposes any authority other then himself, even God. While man can see the importance of honoring God, thus the creation of so many man-made religions, man’s every attempt to do so is motivated out of pride and is ultimately self serving. Many people, especially from various religions try to approach God through being very humble and through performing tremendous acts of humility. But, while “man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart”, (I Sam 16:7). Unfortunately, the motivations behind such acts of humility are ultimately self serving, and being self serving, they are not genuine expressions of love to God.
The self centeredness and pride of man is so powerful that it is impossible for man to even understand that we fall far short of the perfection of God. Man’s heart is so deceitful and desperately wicked, (Jeremiah 17:9) that unless God reveals these truths, man is not even capable of understanding how far he falls short of God’s perfection. Sadly, while many men come to a place of “repentance”, their pride prompts them to attempt to achieve God’s perfection through their own efforts. While the results of such repentance may accomplish great things from man’s perspective, they are ultimately an insult to God by even implying that man can ever approach His perfection.
However, when God opens the “eyes of our hearts” so that we gripped with the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God”, that we are naturally totally self centered, that we then begin to realize that the only thing that we can possibly do, in true humility, is to throw ourselves before the mercy of God. Then when God further reveals to us the love that Jesus Christ has demonstrated to man, we then have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ’s payment for our sins and make Jesus Christ Lord of our lives, (Rom 10: 9-10).
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the father except through me”. With unclean hearts we are prevented from approaching the absolutely pure God. Even the prayers of the ungodly are not acceptable to Him, (Proverbs 28:9, Proverbs 15:8). But because God first demonstrated His love to us, and we are purified through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, we are then able to approach God. It is only then, that we are able to offer pure love back to God.
I John 4:9-10, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation, (ie. the substitution payment) for our sins.”
God’s demonstration of love to man through Jesus Christ’s dying on the Cross and taking on the sins of the World is extremely important to fully grasp. The gift of salvation cannot be earned or achieved in any way, and only because of Jesus Christ’s demonstration of love to man do we have the ability to demonstrate genuine love and true worship to God without self-serving motives.
When God created Adam in His image, besides a physical body, man also had a spirit. But, when Adam sinned, his spirit died, (Romans 6:23). However, because God is Spirit for there to be a relationship between man and God, it became necessary for God to regenerate man's spirit. So when God reveals His love to individuals and they are prompted to place God above themselves, God allows His Spirit to enter into man's spirit which results in man’s spirit being regenerated.
The importance of being regenerated is clearly what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus when Jesus told him, “You must be born again”. The very process of regenerating our spirits is to be born again. However, there is a significant difference between someone who is a Christian outwardly, (or religiously) and one that is literally “born again”. The true Christian is more than a believer in Jesus Christ but is someone who has been regenerated by having God’s Spirit enter into their very being. And this is an extremely high privilege.
Titus 3:5-7, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life,”
Because of the pride of man, it is not uncommon for man to attempt to achieve perfection/ acceptance on his own terms and power. However, there is nothing that man can do to regenerate his own spirit. Our spirits can only be regenerated when God causes His spirit to enter “into” our spirits.
John 1:12-13 “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Now, the hope would be that every true Christian would understand the above description of the different relationships between man and God. And while it is beyond our complete comprehension as to the price that Jesus Christ has paid to take away the sins of the World, we must understand what a tremendous act of love that God has given to man. Again, as a result, God has given to Jesus Christ a name that is above every name:
(Phil 2:9-11). “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When we understand God's demonstration of love to man and the tremendous sacrifice that Jesus Christ paid, it becomes obvious why God has given “all authority in heaven and in earth”, (Matt 28:18-20) to Jesus Christ. And as we begin to understand the magnitude and significance of God's gift, the importance of working to bring all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ should be the obvious conclusion.
The implications of God's Holiness:
God is so holy and perfect and powerful that it is beyond our comprehension. It is actually impossible to even attempt to adequately describe God. But, there are some examples in the Old Testament that give us some hints.
God defined through Moses, a large number rules and laws. One group of these rules was how the Tabernacle and all of the related articles of worship were to be constructed and cared for. A relatively obscure requirement was how the Arc of the Covenant was to be transported. The Arc itself was not to be physically touched by human hands. Centuries after God gave these commands, the Arc was lost in battle to the Philistines. During the process of retrieving the Arc, an incident occurred where one of David's men reached up to prevent the Arc from falling and God instantly struck the man dead. It should be remembered that God declares David to be "a man after God's own heart" and that David no doubt selected some of his best men for this important task. But God's holiness demanded that His Law not be broken, (2 Sam 6:2-7).
Another example is where God sent a prophet to deliver a message with very specific instructions. Even under considerable risk to his own live, the prophet obeyed, (1 Kings 13). However, before the prophet left the territory another "old" prophet persuaded him to violate one of God's minor instructions. Almost immediately, God struck down the disobedient young prophet. God is not a respecter of any man.
A New Testament example:
Acts 5:1-5 " But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
The children of Israel well understood God's Holy nature. Once a year, the high priest was to make a special offering inside of the Holy of Holies within the tabernacle. The selection of the high priest was rigorous, as was the procedure for cleansing before entering into the Holy of Holies. The priests feared God because they knew that if the High Priest harbored any sin or had not been properly cleansed, he would die when he entered God's presence. Therefore, it has been claimed by some that as a precaution a rope was tied around the leg of the High Priest in the event that God found some guilt and would strike the high priest dead. The rope allowed the body to be removed without anyone else being exposed to God's Holiness and wrath.
If we truly grasped God's Holiness, all those who have practices "religion" in an effort to gain God's acceptance, would understand just how futile such attempts to achieve God's acceptance are. Even if the reason for trying to be a good person was not ultimately motivated by personal "spiritual" gain and pride, accomplishing such personal perfection is just not possible. An adequate comparison is for someone who attempts to jump to the moon, or perhaps for someone to be able to swim non-stop from LA to Hawaii. God is so holy and we fall so short, to even consider such attempts is an insult against His holiness.
In the Tabernacle, the very purpose of the veil that was at the entrance of the Holy of Holies was to symbolize the separation of the Holy God from sinful man. So at the moment when Jesus died on the cross and God tore this veil from top to bottom, (Matt 27:51) this was a graphic demonstration of the freedom for all those clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to be able to enter directly into the very presence of God. A completely new relationship than what existed before the Cross.
Resolving the separation between God and man is no minor issue. However, when God looks on all who are "in" Jesus Christ, (ie. born again) He does not see us as sinful man but rather He ONLY sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
2nd Cor. 5:21 "He made Him, (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Rom 4:7-8 "Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin."
John 17:20-23 "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
It is difficult to fully grasp the importance of many Biblical truths. But, it is extremely important for us to come to embrace and understand God's love for us and the rightness that born again Christians have through Jesus Christ. God doesn't just love us, but He loves us as He loves Jesus Christ. Love that is absolute and unconditional. God's unbreakable love for those clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ creates a state of "grace" that God's people live under which is the foundation for a personal relationship between man and God.
Being born again also means that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and our "new birth" means that we have been adopted directly into Gods family. We literal become children of God. Not just children but beloved children of God. So many children grow up in broken homes, and are functionally or literally "fatherless", but for those who are born into God's family, God Himself becomes their father. A faithful father who desires a close, personal, loving relationship with each of His Children, which is of immeasurable value.
There are many other tremendous advantages of being born again but one that is not typically discussed much is that we are priests before God. Not just any priest, but priests under the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Unlike previous priesthoods, Jesus Christ's priesthood is perpetual. The full extent of the responsibilities and authority of this priesthood is not fully understood but as priests we have the official capacity to represent Jesus Christ, both in heaven and on earth, (Matt 28:18-20). As God's children, we are free to enter into His presence. But as priests we have an official capacity to enter into the "courtroom of heaven", (so to speak) and certainly to make petitions before God. During our time on earth, our petitions are through prayer, and after this life we will be free to enter directly into God's presence.
1st Peter 2:5 "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
1st Peter 2: 9 "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;"
In summary, there are tremendous advantages of being born again. Having God's unconditional love, being favored children and having the position of priest of the living God. But, this does not mean that our lives will be without trials. God's allows challenges to come into his Children's lives, not because He doesn't love us but to help transform us into the image and character of Jesus Christ:
Jesus Christ is truly worthy to receive all glory, honor and power. And as children of the Living God, being priest under Jesus Christ, ONLY those who are born again are worthy to praise Him. (See Appendix H).
Important issues of Faith:
Another important element of genuine love is “faith”. Besides God not placing any value on false love that is motivated by self serving motivations, He also places no value on “love” that is forced under compulsion of any kind.
Throughout the ages there have been many attempts by various groups to compel man to “serve” God or some false gods. God, the creator of the Universe does not need man to serve Him. God’s desire is for genuine love and any attempt of coercion or any kind of external compulsion on man destroys the very purpose of God’s design. Obedience through external compulsion, by its very nature is not a demonstration of genuine love.
God understands the importance of free choice and since He has unlimited power He is very careful to maintain an environment for man where there is always a certain level of “faith” required. If man could clearly see how powerful and majestic that God is, man, out of his own self interest and self preservation would obey and serve God. But, such obedience and service would not exhibit the true qualities of love that delights God. Therefore God usually avoids “brute force” approaches of revealing Himself to man through obvious miracles.
God does not desire blind faith either, which tends to produce a love that is only the result of blind obedience. Down through the ages God has provided ample evidence of who He is. The creation itself; God’s relationship with Abraham, and Moses and King David, and many others are all recorded in God's Holy Bible. But, the ultimate revelation of God's character and His love for man is Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Faith is important but God has provided enough evidences for us to know that He loves us so that we can love a living God.
Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” When man stands face to face before God at the judgment, it will be absolutely clear that God is, that God is perfect and that God is all powerful. There will be no faith required. At that point, the evidence will be overwhelming and there will be no other choice other than to bow before Jesus Christ. At that time, no man will be able to express genuine love that was not founded in life before death and the judgment and being confronted with the magnificence of God. The awesome power and glory of God will be beyond our imaginations and the lack of “choice” will eliminate all opportunities to demonstrate genuine love to God, only fear and respect for the regenerated man. However, for the un-regenerated, God’s perfection and power will be absolute terror for them. Sin cannot exist in God's presence and those who spent their lives serving their own self centered desires and pride will not only be cast out into darkness, but their terror of God will be so overwhelming that they will desire to escape God's very presence.
Phil 3:18-19 “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
Men who reject Jesus Christ, ultimately choose to worship their own desires, and their own appetites. Desiring to have all, short of their repenting and turning from their own self worship, in the end they will lose all including their own souls.
In summary, there are several truths that are necessary to understand God's purpose for man's life. Before we can fully embrace God's love for us, it is necessary to grasp the depth of the self centered nature of man. As we understand our natural hatred towards any authority over ourselves, and the tremendous love and sacrifice that Jesus Christ allowed Himself to experience for us, we can then begin to appreciate God's love for us. When we begin to understand what a tremendous act of love that Jesus Christ demonstrated towards us, we can then begin to understand that Jesus Christ is worthy to be worshiped and to have a name that is above every name. Ultimately we come to understand that God's greatest intent for our lives is for us to love Him and to demonstrate His love through our lives to others. (See Appendix A).
Chapter 2: The demonstration of man’s love to God:
So, if we accept the idea that our greatest goal in life is to love God, the next question must be, how do we practically accomplish this? Wouldn't "accomplishing great things for God's Kingdom express such love?"
At the most fundamental level, the news of God’s love for man, (ie. the “Gospel”) allows man the ability to have a genuine personal relationship with God and to be able to express true love back to God without hidden self serving motives. Once we are born “again” there is no “un-born again” process. We become children of God and we have tremendous liberty. Even if we sin, “God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins”, (I John 1:9). We can’t make God love us more or less. Our relationship with God is designed so that our only motivation to love and honor Jesus Christ is from a motivation of pure love. If we are born again, we have God’s favor through Jesus Christ and NO amount of “buying” God’s love through our own efforts is necessary or will such efforts work.
However, being born again, does not mean that we are instantly perfected. Instant perfection would rob believers, (ie. true Christians) the opportunity of wrestling through their self serving motivations and demonstrating their love to God. Instant perfection would also create a situation that is similar to when God initially made Adam. Instant perfection would be nothing less than just being “re-programmed”. Therefore, God allows and greatly desires that each of us work and even to struggle to bring every area of our inner selves under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. These struggles themselves represent acceptable sacrifices and demonstrations of our love to God.
When we begin to grasp the truth, “We love God only because He first loved us” we begin to understand the value of the great love and sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for each of us. As these truths begin to "grip" us, the resulting motivations are tremendously powerful. The embracing of God's unconditional love for us is the most powerful life changing force in the lives of born again Christians.
Not only are we not instantly perfected, but when our spirits are regenerated, we become aware of many of our failures. The proper response to these failures should be deep repentance out of a desire to love God. However, it is quite easy for problems to develop if we attempt to strive for personal victory through determination and self willpower. Some people naturally have tremendous self willpower and are able to make changes in their lives. While such efforts may even seem noble, they promote and, “feed” our self-centered natures. Not only is God “opposed to the proud”, but such efforts do not demonstrate love to God but rather a love for our own self-determination.
Conversely, when we focus on building our lives around loving and honoring Jesus Christ it is much easier to view trials and even failures as necessary lessons that God specifically designs for each of us to further transform us into Christ’s image. It is easy to live a “Godly” life without trials and temptations. But, a Godly life in the midst of trials is something that impresses both God and the World. Joseph, Moses, King David, Daniel and many others are testimonies of striving to honor God in every area of life in the midst of trials and temptations, victories and even how to respond to failures. While each of these men had major moral failures, when their lives were weighed in the balance, God proclaims them to be righteous men of faith, for while there were failures, the thrust of their lives was to love God.
The very process of making Jesus Christ Lord requires us to die to ourselves. Even in our failures, when we get back up, repent and continually start over again, these efforts to overcome our weaknesses are a Holy sacrifice to God, (Rom 12:1-2). When we speak truth in our hearts, recognize the sins in our lives and repent, this all reveals the tremendous cost that it takes to choose to love God over ourselves. Such efforts have absolutely nothing to do with our “salvation” because once we are born again; we have God's unconditional love. The greater these internal struggles are, the greater our victories are expressions of love to God.
What we must be very careful of is when we have continued failures over long periods of time. When this happens we must examine ourselves to determine if we genuinely have a desire to honor Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives or if we are only continuing to love ourselves while vainly serving God, (see Appendix I).
The desire for personal “success” is so closely tied to our own pride that many believe that if God allows trials and loss that this is an indication of God's judgment in our lives. Since man made religions are built upon a foundation of earning god's acceptance, it follows that trials in their lives is a message of their god/s' disapproval. However, God teaches very clearly in James 1 that we should even be very thankful for trials. Knowing that God loves us, we have complete confidence that He works all things for our good. "For our good" specifically means that the trials that God "designs" and allows into our lives is to help transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. God is more concerned about transforming us into His character then He is about our short term happiness and success during our relatively short time on earth.
When personal success is equated to being accepted by God, a mental “barter system” is developed. We begin to feel that if we do “x” then God owes us “y”. The “flip side” of such a view of life is that we have a debt to Jesus and that we owe God our very lives, therefore we are obligated to serve Him. Such a perspective is extremely confusing and conflicts with what the Bible teaches. On one hand, we are told that there is nothing that we can do to buy our salvation and then once we are "born again", we are then told that we owe our lives to Jesus Christ. While such logic is true, it is contradictory and violates the truth that God loves us unconditionally.
A fragmented truth not only obscures God's love for us but robs us of the “opportunity” to freely demonstrate love back to Him. One practical consequence of such a “barter” system is the perspective that giving tithes and offerings and other activities are obligations. But God is very clear that He places no value on sacrifices or offering that are made under compulsion or are presented out of a motive of personal gain. Jesus specifically addresses this issue in His Sermon on the Mount. Those who pray and fast, ("spiritual" activities) in public for approval from man will not be respected by God. Such motives are for personal gain not expressions of love. Therefore, the New Testament offers no fixed percentage for tithing, such as the 10% tithe as found in the Old Testament. Again, God’s desire is for each of us to genuinely love Him and when we begin to understand that tithes and offerings are opportunities to express our love, not obligations, we have tremendous freedom and peace. "You shall know the truth and it shall set you free". Thus, we have insight to the statement, “God loves a cheerful giver”.
The principle of the Widow’s mite:
Mark 12:41-44 “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”
The story of the widow’s mite clearly demonstrates that it is not how much we give or accomplish for God, but it is the attitude towards what we “sacrifice” to Him from our inner person. God is looking for genuine love towards Himself and towards others. Obviously the widow was poor and yet she was willing to offer what she had which demonstrated sacrificial giving. There are many areas of life where people are poor. Money, talents, energy, good health, propensities to various sins, success, length of life etc. Every area in life is a potential opportunity to demonstrate love to God, just as in the same way that the widow demonstrated her inner heart attitude to Him. The widow had extreme financial limitations which allowed her to give an offering that was much more valuable to God than if she gave a mountain of money. She placed her love for God above her own need to eat and possibly even to live. What a fantastic example of how we should place our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
And for those who are struck with catastrophic illnesses, God has provided an opportunity for those folks to praise and love God in spite of their pain and suffering. Just as in the case of Job. It is easy to honor God when God blesses our lives. But, when we still have faith and honor and even praise for God in dismal circumstances this is the demonstration of love that God greatly desires and respects. This is the kind of love that the Widow demonstrated.
Sickness and death are the direct result of the fall of man. So, when someone does fall ill, the first response should always be to pray and to beseech God for deliverance. However, it is not uncommon for God to choose not to answer such prayers. This absolutely does not mean that God does not love us. This does not necessarily mean that we are lacking in faith. As in the case of Paul who prayed three times concerning his "thorn in the flesh", God's response to Paul was, simply "no". Apparently, God had higher purposes for Paul's suffering.
There are at least two specific reasons for God to sometimes answer "no" to our prayers. The first is that God is more concerned with the development of our own character over and above our short term happiness on earth. It is so easy for us to become proud, especially when we are surrounded by "success". Secondly, God's plans may to be demonstrating His power through a weakness. If we give to God or accomplish something out of our abundance, be it monetary or health or ability, the results may be wonderful but they may not necessarily bring glory to God. Conversely, as with the Widow's mite, God uses the weak and the simple to demonstrate His power over the powerful and the wise. Praise and accomplishments in our lives, in spite of illnesses or challenges brings much more honor to God than anything that we can offer from our abundance.
The dynamics of a “personal” relationship:
When we receive Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit enters into our being, each of us begins a “personal” relationship with God. Within this relationship, God’s goal for each of us is to become like Jesus Christ. And to be like Jesus Christ there are some obvious basic character standards, such as, do not lie, do not steal, do not lust, etc. but fundamentally these are just the results of a life that genuinely loves and puts others ahead of ourselves. This is expressed in Mark 10:34-35:
“And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.’”
For Jesus said, “he that is greatest among you is servant of all”. Denying ourselves and taking up our “cross” directly results in serving God and others. To the extent that we continue to cling to our own self centered nature, (ie. wishing to “save our life”) we will continue to have feelings of guilt, obligations and most likely experience many more failures in our lives. However, to the extent that we surrender our own desires, the result will be love, joy and peace in our lives, regardless of our circumstances.
And as we bring all things in our lives under the authority of Jesus Christ, our relationship with God will develop and grow closer. And because God is Holy and He desires the very best for us, He will begin to “prompt” us to develop various personal Biblical convictions. And consistent with God valuing every Christian as a unique individual, beyond basic moral standards, He will begin to develop a unique relationship with each of us.
God has given every Christian different talents, abilities, perspectives, and even areas of temptation that we may struggle in. As a result, God may prompt some individual Christians to be particularly concerned about specific areas in their lives and He may prompt others to be aware of and be concerned about completely different areas in their lives. So while God has no interest in “external” does and don’ts, He is very interested in our willingness to be internally disciplined. This will naturally result in Christians that will have a wide range of ministries, goals, and even “personal” Biblical convictions. (see Appendix G for a discussion on personal convictions).
As we continually strive to bring all areas of our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, through the development of personal convictions, and living our lives according to God’s standards, our personal relationships with God will grow and our lives will ultimately reflect the character of Jesus Christ.
Summary of Man's love towards God:
God’s challenge for every Christian is to demonstrate sincere love to others out of a desire to yield all of ourselves to Jesus Christ, (Mark 12:30-31). 'And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. "And the second, like it”, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' God doubly delights when we put others ahead of ourselves because this demonstrates our love to Him and it also demonstrates His great love towards others through us. Even when there are failures, what is important is that we embrace the challenge of working towards bringing all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yielding all to Jesus Christ is the highest form of worship, (Rom 12:1-2), and is God's purpose for man and is the definition of true success in life.
Chapter 3: Conclusion:
Of all of the questions in life, the "purpose of life" is an extremely important question, one that every wise person will strive to accurately answer.
To be able to accurately answer such questions, it is imperative to understand why God created man and what His purpose is for us. And the Biblical answer is that God's desire for man is so that we can have a close personal relationship with Him.
However, for man to truly love God it is necessary for us to have a free will. The problem is that when we know good and evil, the very nature of man became extremely self-centered. This selfishness is so powerful that man rejects any authority over himself, even God's authority. Therefore, man's basic nature is to be an enemy with God Himself.
And while we were God's very enemies, God demonstrated His tremendous love towards us through Jesus Christ paying the penalty for our sins. This demonstration of love for man came at a tremendous personal price to Jesus Christ.
When we receive Jesus Christ, God's Spirit enters into our spirit and we are born again. At that time, literally becoming children of God; there is nothing that we can do to earn or to lose God's love so we are then able to love God out of pure motives. This state of Grace allows us to freely love God without any selfish motives of personal gain.
Jesus Christ is not only completely worthy but because of His demonstration of God's love to man, God has given all authority to Jesus Christ both in heaven and on earth.
Because of man's tremendously selfish nature, we have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate love back to God as we commit our deepest desires under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong process but as we are successful, Godly character is developed and we are able to demonstrate love to others as well as to God. The highest form of worship is to love God by honoring Jesus Christ in every area of our inner lives, (Matt 22:36-40, Rom 12:1-2, Matt 28:18-20).
Ultimately the goal of our lives should be to bring all honor to The King: For each of us to truly worship the Lord and King Jesus Christ.
The importance of God's love and the effect that our love should reflect to others:
I John 4:7-21
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Sacrificing others on the altar of our lives:
It is the nature of man to have heroes. And if we have heroes, the obvious conclusion is for us to be a hero ourselves. To accomplish great things for God, to be a great evangelist, or a great Christian leader or the missionary that God uses to conquer a nation. All of these accomplishments are good in themselves, but if we are to speak truth in our hearts, the question, "what are our true inner motives" should be asked. It is so easy to convince others and even ourselves that our only desire is to "serve" God. But, than again the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and ultimately our goals can easily be our own "spiritual success".
How many Christian marriages have failed because the husband has dedicated all of his time to his ministry? How many children of pastors and missionaries have become bitter enemies of God because their parents sacrificed them on the altar of their ministries? Certainly the justifications for these decisions sounded so "spiritual" but the fruit of these decisions has resulted in countless failed Christian marriages and even more countless children with broken faiths and lives.
Regardless of the "needs of the moment" that it is tough to have the right balance between responsibilities that God has given to us. Be these responsibilities our job, our ministry or our families. But as the fruit of any tree clearly identifies the type of the tree, the fruits of our lives also identifies if our motives and goals were truly to honor God or if they were just a disguise for attempts to make ourselves look successful.
A more obvious fruit of our lives that springs from our inner motives is if we genuinely love and serve others. Do we share the Gospel or any other ministry and do we encourage others to be included because there is a sense of obligation or a need to impress others or because this is what we are expected to do in our position? Or do we share the Gospel or are we involved in various ministries out of being genuinely concerned for others, especially their spiritual welfare?
Again, it is so easy for us to justify or to manipulate the answers to these questions. Psalms 15 address this very question:
Psalm 15 "O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
The Majesty of Jesus Christ.
Col 1: 13-14 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Col :15-18 He, (Jesus Christ, as referred to in Col 1:13-14 above) 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. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
Col 1:19-22 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – “
Philippians 2:1-11 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Matt. 28:18-20 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Revelation 5 "I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, " Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. " You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, " Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, " To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Copy Right Notice.
This material is copyrighted 2008 - 2012 by Edwin E Thompson. All rights are reserved. Permission is granted to freely distribute this material as long as it is distributed in its entirety, including this copy right notice for non-Commercial purposes.
God’s love and work in my life:
When I mention the undertaking of this writing project to some, it is not uncommon to be asked about my Biblical "credentials". The first problem with this perspective is that other than Bible knowledge, most credentials carry no guarantee of genuine commitment to Jesus Christ, of Godly character, or of genuine love for God and others. The second problem is that since true born again Christians have the Spirit of God it is every Christian's responsibility to verify all teaching against God's Holy Scriptures. While my goal is to provide a particular perspective, the reader is challenged to verify if Biblical truths are accurately represented. (Appendices A,E &H are provided for comparison with what has been presented).
Jesus made the statement during His triumphal entry, "that if you would not praise me these rocks would rise up and praise me". The Lordship and true worship of Jesus Christ seems to be so neglected that I was prompted to start this writing. Other than what God has done in my live, given my weak writing skills, I am probably the last person that should be undertaking such a project. However, so many things are done in the name of Jesus without truly worshiping and praising Him, I am probably one of the last alternatives before the rocks rise up and praise Jesus Christ.
Following is a description of what God has done in my life:
The early years:
When I was 4 years old my parents divorced. My mother had a hard time making ends meet, so she found an apartment where the landlady was suppose to take care of me. It was hard for single moms to support a family in the 50’s. My mom, being a very friendly person, and having a propensity toward alcoholism found a series of jobs as a cocktail waitress. Also, in the early 50’s, “experts” espoused a “hands off” approach to raising children. Often times she worked two jobs to be able to pay the bills. The result of her schedule was that between the years of age 5 until about 8 years old, I was essentially living in an apartment by myself. My closest contact to anyone was the landlady who lived down stairs.
Looking back, I feel that the landlady was a terrible caregiver. My first day of school is a good example of the situation. My birthday is very close to the starting day of most public schools, so a couple of days after I turned 5 years old I entered my first day of public “education”. Unfortunately, I was a very immature 5 year old. Bright and early, one morning, I was escorted down the block to where I was given my one and only lesson on how to cross an intersection of two very busy streets, by watching the crosswalk signals. After another block, my instruction included how to cross with an attendant in front of the school. I was told to cross the street, to go to the office, and that they would help me. Dutifully, I marched across the street and up the steps. I got half way up the stairs when it struck me that I had absolutely no idea of where I was going or how to find it. When I looked back across the street for some possible help, the person responsible for me was long gone. Indicative of my first day, the amount of help I received at "home" provided almost no opportunity of academic success. To make matters worse, the public school’s attempt to teach sight reading was a total failure. The probability of learning to sight read with 5 to 10 minutes of sporadic help from the teacher every week is extremely low. While my mom had problems of her own, I still remember her questioning the teachers. But she believed that the “professionals” knew what they were doing. At the end of the year, the teacher recommended that I should be held back. However, these same “professionals” continued to do very little to prevent my academic failure and just tolerated my misbehavior. At the end of the second year of the first grade I could not read at all and was given a “social” promotion, as was the case for the 2nd and 3rd grades to follow.
If my academic skills were lacking my social skills were even worse. After I was told to go to bed, I would sneak back up and watch TV to all hours of the night. This did not make me very attentive in school. I was continually disruptive to class, got into numerous fights, and spent considerable time going to the vice principals office. I played so rough that one time, (by accident) I knocked the front teeth out of one of my class mates. The vice principal did nothing to help or even to try and understand what the problems were. His only effort was to document my behavior, which I came to believe was only to ultimately have me kicked out of school. The last time I “visited” him, I remember him saying that I had been in his office about twice a month, (that was in the 3rd grade). I can only wonder what would have happened if he or someone else would have taken even a minimum amount of serious interest in me.
One day in the 2nd grade I was disrupting the class and the teacher sent me up to the front of the room to an extra desk which she placed behind a moveable blackboard. It didn’t take long before I was the only child in school who had a separate desk where I could go to when I didn’t want to participate in class. If the subject didn’t look interesting, the teacher was happy to let me just go to my private “office” and draw or something- as long as I was quiet.
During the summer months I was free to roam around the neighborhood unattended for long hours. One summer afternoon, I met a stranger in the park who was a Christian, (I was probably 6 or 7 years old at the time). He was talking about sin in our lives. Even at my age, I thoroughly understood that I was a mean, self-centered "sinner". I immediately understood my need for a Savior. I thankfully accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into my life. After leaving the park, I never saw that fellow again.
While I still remember the inner peace that I felt toward God, my external environment did not change for several years. With very little positive external influence of family, school, Church, or anything else, changes in my life were very hard to detect. However, looking back I can see that there was a clear progression of God’s truth working in my life. It was as though a very small seed of truth had been sown in a very dark soul. And as faithful and as sure as God’s truth is, it slowly grew.
One of the greatest challenges that I faced was in the area of loneliness. It is very hard for any 5,6,7,8 year old child to virtually live by himself. I was very lonely but God began to place on my heart a desire to pray to Him. One day I asked my mom to get me a prayer book, like was found in the doctor’s office. After some time, during one of her visits home, to my surprise she actually brought two children’s prayer books home. However, I was so excited to see her that I forgot about them for quite a while.
After sometime I was prompted to “talk” to God and after digging clear to the bottom of my toy chest, I found the two books again. As I opened the books, I was all excited, but to my utter shock, I suddenly realized that I could not read a single word. What could I have been thinking? It was no surprise that the lady taking care of me was absolute no help at all. This was quite a dilemma, but somehow I decided that I would just have to talk or think within my mind to God without the books. Ultimately I told God that He could have my every thought, which began a state of continual prayer to God. God became my best friend. No, I didn’t hear audible voices but it was not uncommon for there to be a thought or a prompting that would enter my mind. It took a while, but God helped me conquer loneliness.
Unfortunately, looking back, I can only grimace at some of the thoughts and bad attitudes and self-centered actions which I have shared with God through the years. I’m sure He had to hold His nose at times. Even without the Bible, I instinctively knew that I violated many of God’s moral standards. Lying, cheating, and stealing were only the results of my selfishness. However, somehow I understood that God loved and valued me. And this is exactly what the Bible teaches, Rom 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The implication of this is that even though we may be enemies of God, He was still willing to make a tremendous sacrifice for us. What other god has demonstrated their love so clearly to mankind?
When I entered the 4th grade my mom remarried and for the first time I found myself living in a house with a mom and a stepfather and a new school in a rural community. Around that time, my brother was born and we struggled through another divorce. This divorce was very vicious. Of all of the men in my mother’s life, this man was beyond a doubt the worst. After the divorce, my mom, my brother, and I continued to live in the same house.
Although the school I attended was smaller, the 4th grade “professional” had been hired from the same school system that I had previously come from. Fortunately, God had been working in my life and I was making some “social” progress, so the amount of trouble that I got in was considerably less. However, like before, I did very little of the school work assigned. I didn’t bother the teacher and she didn’t bother me. At the end of the 4th grade I received my usual recommendation of “social promotion”. Well, the members of the school board, from this rural farming community wanted to know why? What had the teacher done to help? And what was she going to do different the next year? Looking back, the implications were that if I didn’t learn to read- she was out. Three or four of my class mates had parents on the school board. A definite positive testimony for the small parent controlled public school district. Still continuing to teach sight reading, (while calling it modified phonics or some such nonsense) she was not successful her second year either. She was apparently fired, and I never saw her again.
With another social promotion I made it to the 5th grade. However, the 5th grade teacher was from an older school of thought. To begin with, she demanded respect. While teaching a split class of 5th and 6th grades, (about 30 students) she also taught me to read in her “spare time” and took me completely through every spelling book from the 1st to the 5th grade. (However, I am still terrible at spelling.) Learning to read and other problems that I needed to overcome were eventually conquered, but only through much struggle and prayer.
For a while I was content to earn “C” grades. However, God put it on my heart to work much harder in school. As a result I did a fair amount of self study in the 7th and 8th grade. History, chemistry, and drafting were a few of the topics of my additional study. That teacher, who was also the principle of the school did a great job. By the time I got to high school I was basically caught up with most of the class. Ironically, I ultimately graduated from High School as a member of the National Honor Society. More of a miracle than any of my peers ever would have expected.
My second academic demotion, (the 4th grade) placed me into a class with a fellow class mate who became one of the few friends that I had during these years. One day he invited me to go to Sunday School with him. Unfortunately, after about a year, his family moved away. But I continued to regularly attend until about the 8th grade. While I learned some basic things about the Bible, mostly the typical Bible stories, I cannot recall any significantly effect, influence, or values that were added to my life. Despite some positive spiritual influence, during these years, I had many struggles and lost many moral battles in my life. I am just so thankful that God’s love is so strong and unconditional towards us.
Around the time of the 5th grade, my mom remarried. This stepfather also had tremendous drinking problems. In fact he had been a sailor most of his life. However, unlike the men/ stepfathers before him, he fundamentally had my best interest at heart. When he wasn’t drinking he was a great guy. Unfortunately he drank a lot. And with the alcohol, came the natural consequences of drinking. There were tremendous stresses in our house. Proverbs tells us: “wine is a mocker and strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise”. Of all of the Biblical truths that I have seen firsthand in my life, what God says about alcohol has proven to be some of the most dramatic.
I know that a lot of people that come from broken homes end up with a lot of “issues”. Somehow I understood that my parents had become slaves to a cruel task master, (alcohol). Much of their time, emotional energy and even money was constantly stripped away from them. But one thing that was always clear to me was that they loved me unconditionally. Even through all of the failures in my life, their love for me was unquestionable. But, what was of even a greater advantage to me was knowing that God loved me unconditionally.
A New Beginning:
About the 8th grade I was walking along, minding my own business when God’s Holy Spirit totally convicted me of my many shortcomings. While there was a definite understanding of my guilt, at the same time there was a deep sense of peace and joy. I suspect that it was a glimpse of what it is like to be in God’s presence, covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It was as though I was aware of my sins, but also understood to the core of my being, Jesus’ genuine love for me, and His sacrifice for my sins. As my sins passed before me, in a matter of seconds I genuinely repented from a long list of failures and wrong attitudes. Stealing, lying and many other list of other offences. I had absolutely no doubts that God completely forgave me of my shortcomings, (I John 1:9). From that time, He has given me considerable grace and power to overcome many problems that had crept into my life. The result of that time of sincere confession has been true inner peace, joy and freedom. As a result, I began to develop solid convictions against sin. At that time I had been a Christian for about 8 years. While I started my Christian life with a tremendous personal deficit, and virtually no external influence, God continued to transform my life from within. For me, it was as though God transformed me into a "Christian" from the inside out.
High School Years:
The transition between grade school and high school was socially challenging. The grade school that I graduated from was small and only provided about 5% to 10% of the students in the high school. As a result I knew very few of my new fellow students and being somewhat shy, it was fairly hard for me to make friends. To make matters worse, the general thrust of a lot of my peers seemed to be “wine, women, and song”. Not only had I seen the negative consequences of such values, God had really changed my heart. And being an “outsider” it was very hard for me to relate to most of my fellow students.
While high school had its share of challenges, the environment at home was disintegrating at an increasing rate and the level of the stress was tremendous. I can’t exactly explain it, but just as God helped me overcome the tremendous loneliness during my younger years, He continued to be faithful during these years of extreme stress.
I was away from my home environment for the 4 years at OSU, and was much happier. There were so many opportunities in college and I loved the engineering classes. I graduated with an engineering degree with a fairly good GPA. Definitely, not bad for someone that didn’t learn how to read until the 5th grade, (actually 7 years of public education). But of all the opportunities that I had in College, my involvement with a campus ministry was by far the most valuable. A tremendous amount of time was spent studying, memorizing and meditating God's Word. You can believe what you want about the Bible but what I found over 50 years is that it is God’s Word, contains truth, and has tremendous insights into life.
Besides gaining a grasp on God’s Word, possibly more important was the opportunities to see God work in everyday life. Not the least of which were a number of my fellow students who received Jesus Christ and then to see how their lives were transformed.
A year and a half after graduating my wife and I were married. But it wasn’t long before we experienced our first trial. The day we returned from our honeymoon, we received word that I had been laid off from my first engineering job. I had learned a tremendous amount in that position but overall it was more business related than engineering. I was very thankful that God allowed this trial in my life. Even in the bleak economic times God continued to provide for us.
Overall life had its typical challenges until about the time of the birth of our second child. As the delivery date came closer it became all too apparent that the baby was not physically developing properly as she was too small. When she was born, while her length was normal, she only weighed about 3-1/2 pounds. The doctors had no explanation for her problems. Tiffany was very fragile and when she gained some weight, (through IV’s) this resulted in various problems with her heart. Shortly after, it became apparent that Tiffany was also diabetic. Looking back, since insulin is an important growth hormone, her diabetes probably hindered the proper development of her heart and her body and the problems just cascaded from there.
We spent the next three months in the hospital. Starting with the stressful delivery, all of the medical questions, the many lose-lose decisions that we were faced with, and our general concern for Tiffany made this a very rough time in our lives. Tiffany was actually quite alert and we had a precious relationship with her. She ultimately suffered through three heart surgeries. Every surgery revealed that the attempt of the previous surgery had failed. The whole disaster was quite frustrating. The day of the last surgery, there was a long delay for the elevator. Tiffany just stared at me with her little dark eyes as if to say “good bye”. She did not survive the surgery but afterwards, we had an opportunity to say goodbye to her. I remember how nice it was to be able to hug her without all the tubes and wires that we always had to work around.
Neither my wife nor I understood/understand why God would allow such a disaster to happen in our family. We had confidence that God loves us and that He causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him. As people, we just don’t have the “big” picture and there are a lot of things worse than death, even losing a child. The delivery, hospital experience, and death of Tiffany left us extremely exhausted. It took three or four years before we began to really recover. But, through all this time, we both had absolute assurance that God loved us and was directing our lives. It is so easy to have faith, be thankful and to praise God when everything is going our way. Possibly to even be a little proud. However, it is so important to experience God’s love, joy and peace when God allows trials in our lives.
Through the years, the only time that the loss of Tiffany has ever really bothered me is around her birthday. My wife will put some flowers on the table or something and I will look up and see the kids and then I can’t but wonder what our lives would have been like if another wonderful young lady was seated at the table with us. If Tiffany had lived, there is no telling what our family would have been like.
When our son was 14 and our second daughter was 11 God led our family and provided for us to adopt a little boy from Albania, Mirel. The first three years of Mirel’s life are just about as dark and as bleak as can be imagined. It is a miracle many times over that he ever survived the extreme neglect, the malnutrition and absolute filthy environment that he was in. Mirel has graduated from high school now and he has a gift for remembering people’s names. But, it isn’t the names that are so important to him. He is very friendly and genuinely concerned for everyone that he meets and as a result he pays close attention to them. It is amazing how many things he can remember about those he has only met once or twice.
Now God tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27 “but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”. God rescued Mirel out of such a deep dark hole it is amazing to see how he demonstrates God's love to everyone he meets.
However, some may ask that if God was in control, why He allowed Mirel to be subjected to such miserable conditions in the first place. This is a fair question, but only God has these answers. Such conditions that Mirel found himself in were the direct result of the actions of evil, wicked men. Men who rejected God and His moral standards. As each of us get older it should be fairly obvious that when we reject God’s standards and cater to our own self-centered goals and desires that the consequences can be very destructive for ourselves and for others around us.
Perhaps if Mirel was born into a “normal” environment he would have become extremely self centered himself. We don’t know. If Tiffany had survived, there is certainly the possibility that we would not have had the time, emotional energy or money to adopt Mirel.
Ultimately each of us must make our own decisions. But, it is extremely important that by faith we come to understand and embrace God's unconditional love for us. That God ordains challenges in our life for our ultimate good, especially when we don't understand what God is accomplishing in our lives. Otherwise, we can become bitter, reject God and serve our own selfish desires. We should always keep the question in mind, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul”.
I cannot explain how someone telling me at age 6 or 7 about Jesus being God and loving us so much that He died on the cross to pay for the penalty for my sins had any effect. I don’t even know how I understood these truths, but they radically changed my life. I do remember the darkness that was in my life and when I simply “accepted” Jesus, that He entered into my heart and life. Since that time I have continued to grow in the understanding of His unconditional love for us.
I shudder to think what kind of a life I would have had if God had not made significant changes. Looking back I can see that God specifically brought many situations that “stretched” my faith with the goal of improving my inner character. There were many long periods of struggle and prayer where I couldn’t see any improvements at the time. But looking back it is easier to see that He has had a specific plan for my life all along.
My prayer for anyone who reads this is that they will find the same love and hope that I have had for over 50 years. Not only that God has a higher purpose for any struggles in your lives but that you will also find a deep relationship with God through a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
Since some Christians will develop personal convictions in some areas while others will have complete freedom in these areas but different convictions in other areas, it is very important to respect what God has done and is doing in each of our lives. All “fundamental” convictions need to be Biblically based, but “personal” convictions may involve “grey” areas of Biblical teaching. The reason why these areas are considered “grey” is because the Bible does not specifically define every aspect of every particular truth. Therefore, personal conjecture, discerning, and even prompting from God become significant. The greater the necessity for conjecture, the greyer the Biblical truth is.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”, (Prov. 25-17) teaches us that it is good to “challenge” the thinking of others. We are challenged to reprove, rebuke and exhort our fellow Christians. However, we must be very careful to not be "judgmental" or to be critical and to respect others that have different “personal” convictions then ourselves. Because of God's holiness, He is very concerned for Christians to be obedience to absolute moral laws. However, beyond the law, God delights in appropriate “personal” convictions because they represent acts of our love to Him. Such obedience can also be referred to as “the fear of the Lord”. However, because of the love relationship between God and Christians, “the fear of the Lord” should be more accurately defined as “sincere love and respect” for the Lord.
While there are grey areas, and personal convictions, consistent with the perfect nature of God, there are also clear absolute truths that being obedient, demonstrates love and respect to God. As we study and apply the truths in the Bible we need to be very careful to follow the teaching of Psalms 15:2 “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.” Walking in integrity and speaking truth in our heats is extremely important if we are to avoid being influenced by our own self centered pride.
It has been said, “Man’s morality dictates his theology”. When we don’t speak truth in our hearts, just about anything can be justified, even justified Biblically. However, the results of properly handling truth are love and obedience to God which leads to victorious lives. Furthermore, as we gain experience dealing with various issues, we will be equipped to discern good and evil. (Heb 5:14 “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”)
The Courtroom of Heaven:
The Bible doesn't describe much about heaven but there are sections of the Book of Revelation that provide some tremendous insight. It is recommended that the reader visualize being a favored son, (or daughter), clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and being a priest in the "courtroom of heaven".
Revelation 4:1-11 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, " HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, " Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
Revelation 5:1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.
Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, " Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. " You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, " Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, " To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Dealing with Temptation:
Because Jesus was tempted on a number of occasions, there is no reason why God would not allow us to also be tempted. Ultimately the question comes down to if we choose to love God or are we going to love ourselves. In the case of choosing our own pleasures and desires, such decisions result in our worshiping of idols in our lives.
God has also provided us with some "tools" that can be used to conquer temptations. Here are some things that have helped me:
1. 2nd Timothy 2:22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. One thing to notice here is to not just flee lusts but to also pursue righteousness. No doubt this is the foundation of the proverb, "idle hands are the devils workshop". If we are truly busy pursing righteousness, faith, love and peace, there will be no time for temptations. A major aspect of fleeing youthful lusts is for us to speak "truth" in our hearts. The first battle field with temptations is our minds. As soon as we allow that extra little thought or glance, or feeling, we must declare this to God and repent. 1st John 1: 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2. There is also a tremendous power in a consistent prayer and fasting program. The real strength of a fasting program is that we must choose to put God first ahead of our own natural desire for food. If done for the right motives, the discipline of fasting can greatly strengthen disciplines in other areas of our lives. (Matt 6:16-18)
3. The importance of memorizing and meditating on God's Word. Psalms 119:11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. The classic example of this is Jesus' quoting scriptures when He was tempted. When we have God's word in our hearts, it is much easier for us to speak truth in our inner being. One day I was minding my own business and along came a temptation. Almost instantly 1st Peter 1: 24-25 came to my mind, "For, "ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER." I believe that God brought this verse to my mind and since that time it has been a powerful tool for me. I can't say that the truths contained in it would help anyone else but if one meditates and memorizes God's Word, He will reveal the truths that will have a powerful effect in your life.
4. Burning idols: Deut. 7: 25-26 "The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God. "You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned. We cannot always control what our eyes have seen, and these images can easily continue to tempt us. In reality, such images can become idols in our minds. Instead of transforming our minds to truth, such images continue to pull us back to serving our own desires, and functionally become idols. And as we should burn physical idols we should also "burn" images/ idols in our minds. Since I first heard this concept I have literally visualized a furnace in my mind where wrong images are thrown in where they are burned up and are gone. This has worked remarkable well. With a little mental discipline most of these images have never returned. When they do, I just take them back down to the furnace, throw them in and close the door. I claim 1st John 1:9, thank God for His forgiveness and continue on.
God obviously does not want us to have idols in our lives and He also greatly desires for us to transform our minds, Rom 12: 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
If we reflect God's love back to Him, or if we choose to submit to ourselves to the idols of our base desires, our response to temptations is closely related to our understanding of God's love for us. And even when we fail, there is tremendous power when we understand God's love for us:
Luke 7:41-43 "A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."