Vessels of Clay — 2Cor 4:5-7

Vessels of Clay

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
(2Cor 4:5-7)

I recently had a Roman Catholic friend tell me that God told him to tell me that I should pray the rosary. My commentary speaks to the meaning of being a “vessel of clay” and what Jesus says about to whom we may pray and how we should pray. I am sharing this commentary, because there is a movement to bring Roman Catholic practices into evangelical churches. Please take the time to read this even if you aren’t inclined to pray the rosary, because it will likely be offered to you or to someone you know. It is extremely important to pay attention to the source of the light that fills you in preparation for doing the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I was born into the Roman Catholic Church and was raised with reverence for Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have learned that reverence to Mary in the way that it is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church is goddess worship and idolatry. The two greatest forms of idolatry in the Roman Catholic Church are the reverence/worship of Mary and the adoration/veneration/worship of the consecrated communion substances. Mary has been elevated to the same level as Jesus as co-redeemer. She has been given the title that the pagans use for goddess worship — Queen of Heaven. She is considered to be a mediator through whom we should pray so that Jesus will hear and respond to our prayers. Roman Catholic tradition teaches that Jesus cannot resist the petitions of his mother and will honor her prayers made on our behalf. Thus, making our petitions to Mary is much more powerful than praying directly to Jesus.

For those who are unfamiliar with the rosary that Roman Catholics use, it is a series of prayers assembled in a repetitious pattern. Rosary beads are used to keep track of the sequence of repeated prayers. The set of rosary beads consist of large and small beads arranged in a circular strand. There is a Roman Catholic style crucifix connected to the circle by a short strand of beads. The beads in the circle consist of five groups of ten small beads separated by large beads. The Lord’s Prayer is recited while holding a large bead and the “Hail Mary” prayer is recited when holding a small bead.
The Hail Mary is a prayer to the Virgin Mary – the Mother of Christ Jesus. The Hail Mary is recited ten times after the Lord’s Prayer is recited once, while praying within the circle of beads. There are also certain mysteries that the person is to focus the mind upon as he or she prays.

This is The Hail Mary prayer.
“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

When considering my friends request, I had to consider two questions:
What does the Bible say or not say about Mary?
What does the Bible say about prayer and worship and command us not to do in relationship to prayer and worship?

The Bible provides basic information about Mary. She was a virgin. She was engaged to be married to Joseph. She was visited by an angel who told her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would become pregnant. She would bring forth a son who would be the Messiah, and his name would be Jesus. She is mentioned when Jesus was twelve years old and he was interacting with the teachers of the law in the temple. The first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is when Jesus turned the water into wine. He did so at the encouragement of his mother Mary who also was at the wedding feast. Mary was also present, in some cases with her other children at certain events in the ministry of Jesus. She was mentioned as being at the cross during the crucifixion and being in the upper room when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. No mention is given to her as having a status other than a woman. The Bible does not tell us to reverence Mary, to pray to Mary, or to use Mary as a mediator through which we should pray to Jesus. The Bible does not call her the Queen of Heaven, does not give her divine status, or tell us that we can or should pray to Mary. The bottom line is that the Bible tells us that Mary was a virgin and that after His birth, she had a husband and they produced other children. Mary is now a dead woman, a vessel of clay, like all the rest of us, and she is probably in heaven with all other Christian believers.

So where do all the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church concerning Mary originate? It is not from the Bible, but from Roman Catholic tradition. Many centuries after the resurrection and after the Roman Emperor Constantine made a decree that all of Rome must become Christian, there was a slow and systematic transformation in Roman Catholic dogma concerning Mary. She was transformed from a human woman to the ever-virgin divine mother – the Queen of Heaven.

In Roman Catholicism, Roman Catholic tradition holds equal weight with the Bible. If the Bible says something is true, then it is true. (I fully support the truth of all scriptures in the Bible.) However, the Roman church also states that if we, the Roman Catholic Church, say that something is true, then it is true, because we are the one true church and the Pope (Vicar of Christ) infallibly speaks for Christ. I find nothing in the Bible that supports the Roman Catholic Church in its dogma of being the one and only true church – where the Pope is the only legitimate spokesperson on the earth for Jesus Christ. Similarly, the divinity of Mary, her perpetual virginity, and her divine status with Jesus is not supported by scripture. Mary worship and papal infallibility are created by man.

I spent many hours of my life praying to Mary when I was a Catholic child and while I was an adult Christian mystic deeply engaged in Gnosticism. When one prays to Mary, one may have a perceptible spiritual experience, however, it is important to examine the experience to avoid confusion. There is a great difference between the type of “spiritual experiences” that one has with Mary and a true encounter with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know this prior to my salvation.

2Cor 11:14
“…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

When I was a young man with emotional pain, I experienced a mothering peace fill my soul when I prayed to Mary. I believe there is a spiritual being who answers to the name of Mary, but it is not the woman who carried Jesus in her womb. The being that comes to meet those who open their hearts to Mary and pray to her is a great being of light. This being distorts the gospel message as contained in the Bible and gives us a distorted picture of Jesus. This great being of light appears warm and loving and kind. It promises to be with us always, but it never encourages us to draw closer to Jesus. It never shows us how to walk on the narrow path that Jesus tells us to walk. This great being of light will not tell us to repent and ask Jesus to change our hearts. This great being of light that goes by the name of Mary is Satan himself. This is a very hard thing to say, but I know it to be true, because of what I have experienced and what the Bible teaches. When Mary speaks, she says things such as, “There-there little wounded child, it’s all going to be OK. God loves you. I always love you just the way you are. I will protect you and help you. You are being tested, but I am here to help you with the tests. No matter what happens I will be here for you. I will show you what to do. You can always trust in me. I won’t let you down…” Sometimes she doesn’t say anything; she just offers comfort by her peaceful loving smile.

Quite often unconfessed sin lies at the root of our agitation and difficulties in life, but Mary does not lead us into repentance. Instead she offers comfort to us when the Holy Spirit is convicting us of sin. She might tell us to confess to a priest, but she will not bring conviction which leads to repentance. Repentance is not simply confessing our sins to a Roman Catholic priest and being absolved of those sins by the priest. Repentance is a change of mind toward sin. It results in concrete observable change in our nature and lifestyle. I can honestly say that in the forty years when I prayed to Mary and revered her as the Queen of Heaven; nothing changed in my life. I was just as much a sinner at age forty-six as I was when I was six. Mary was an obstacle to my true repentance.

The great being of light known as Mary stood as a warm beacon of loving light in my life. Her open mothering arms and her unconditional acceptance of me with my many problems and sinful habits was so inviting – so compelling – so magnificent. However, this is not how God works in the life of a sinner and is most certainly not how He works in the life of a Christian.

When God comes close to us, we feel His power, we see our sins, and we fall to the ground in fear, because we experience the clash between the flesh and the divine glory of God. (This is authentic revival.) Real God encounters result in life changing and permanent transformation. Real God encounters ignite a burning desire to repent for habitual sin and to become more holy. True encounters with the Holy Spirit cause a kind of restlessness in the soul, which no longer takes comfort in earthly pleasure, but yearns to be fed by the Word of God and longs for more Godliness. This was quite different than my thousands of encounters with the being known as Mary. At the knee of Mary we learn that God is kind, loving, and good. This is true, but not the complete truth. She teaches that God is unconditionally present. This is a lie. She does not mention that God is also angry and filled with wrath against those who perpetuate sin in their own lives, encourage sinful behavior in others, and refuse to repent. Mary might encourage confession of sin, but not true repentance. Confession is not the same as repentance. Confession only means telling a priest that we are sorry for doing bad things, and being willing to pay the price of penance by saying some prayers to Mary. Permanent change is not expected. On the other hand, repentance comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, and there is typically deep sorrow and an expectation of systematic and permanent change. We become willing to hand over our resentments, bitterness, hatefulness, habitual anger, and selfishness directly to Christ Jesus and to ask for His Holy Spirit power to change our hearts and minds. As vessels of clay, we have no power to bring about permanent reform of the flesh and of the mind on our own. This power comes to us through the Holy Spirit when we submit to the Lordship of Christ Jesus. Mary cannot save us from our sins or save us from hell.

I recently noticed the following Old Testament scripture from Jeremiah the prophet when I began to re-examine my experience of Mary.

Jeremiah 7:16-20
16 Then the LORD said, “As for you, Jeremiah, do not pray for these people! Do not cry out to me or petition me on their behalf! Do not plead with me to save them, because I will not listen to you.
17 Do you see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?
18 children are gathering firewood, fathers are building fires with it, and women are mixing dough to bake cakes to offer to the goddess they call the Queen of Heaven. They are also pouring out drink offerings to other gods. They seem to do all this just to trouble me.
19 But I am not really the one being troubled!” says the LORD. “Rather they are bringing trouble on themselves to their own shame!
20 So,” the Lord GOD says, “my raging fury will be poured out on this land. It will be poured out on human beings and animals, on trees and crops. And it will burn like a fire which cannot be extinguished.

God spoke this warning to Jeremiah so that it would be spoken to the Jews. Goddess worship is nothing new. It is a common part of all pagan religions. It was common among all the peoples who surrounded Israel and Judah, and the Jews continually allowed goddess worship to be integrate into the religious practices that had been given to them by Jehovah. Goddess worship is alive and well in the world today and it has infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church. It comes from paganism. God didn’t accept goddess worship before the time of Jesus and He still does not accept goddess worship. God’s nature does not change over time. His Old Testament distaste for idolatry remains. I see nothing in the Bible that indicates that we should believe that Mary is divine and should be worshipped, yet, this is the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

To pray to Mary and to worship Mary is the sin of idolatry. Praying the rosary is a sin of idolatry even if the rosary contains the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is good and true, but when it is mixed in with prayers to a dead woman who is called divine, then we are blaspheming God himself.

I offer this as a warning, because the Roman Catholic Church has a long term plan to create a one world religion. They are courting all Protestant denominations, especially evangelical churches, to bring them into a common religion under the headship of the Pope. They are also courting Muslims, because Jews, Muslims, and Christians all point to Abraham as their father in the flesh. Roman Catholics are not just another denomination, which should be unconditionally accepted as part of the body of Christ. Their practices and beliefs prevent salvation, and promote idolatry. The Roman Catholic Church was apostate at the time of Martin Luther and the Anabaptist reformers, and it continues to work in opposition to the teachings in the Bible. A smiling welcoming Pope who extends open arms of inclusion to people of other denominations and other religious systems does not change the idolatry in the church.

Jesus made this very clear statement in John 14:6

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

The only way to God the Father is through Jesus, and the only way to Jesus is through salvation. Mary does not reign in heaven along with her son. She is not a co-redeemer. Jesus does not passively sit on his throne awaiting her instructions. Mary was a virgin vessel of clay whose womb contained the greatest light that has ever been upon the earth. Nevertheless, she was born as a Jewish vessel of clay and she died as a Christian vessel of clay. I expect to see her in heaven, but she will not be seated on a throne beside a subservient Jesus. She will be lying on her face with the rest of us worshiping the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sincerely,
John Thomas

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Shine as a Light in the World

Shine as a Light in the World

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing;
15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
16 holding fast the word of life
(Phil 2:14-16, (NET)

There were many years when I characterized my self as a believer in the Christ consciousness. I had little familiarity with the Bible and was happy with my distant relationship with God. Simply believing in the existence of Christ Jesus established a general sense of reverence for God, and I had no reason to expect more. I was on the mystical/contemplative path where I relied on so called Gnostic spiritual wisdom, which promised that I could rise up into great heights of spiritual perception. I thought I was a being of light that was working hard on becoming a truly bright and luminous being for the greater good of humankind.

The truth was that my life was just as dark as any other man of the world. Simply believing that God was real and the creator of all things didn’t provide me with any greater status with God and didn’t give me any light. The reason that my life was darkness and not light was that I was not a son of God. I hadn’t been adopted into the family of God. I was still a child of the world – a follower of Satan. These are hard words to say, but we are either a child of God or a child of Satan. There is no middle ground. We are either of the world and a child of the father of lies, the devil, or we have received God’s gift of grace and are following Jesus. We shine when we follow Jesus.

There was a day when I got down on my knees and gave my life to God. I thought this was a cool thing to do. I liked Jesus, and why not get aboard the Jesus train. I didn’t see a ticket collector or toll booth, so I signed up for the ride. I thought it was free.

Shortly thereafter, I was surprised when I began having numerous encounters with the Holy Spirit who systematically began to convict me of many things. I thought all I needed to do was board the train and I would begin to shine with the light of Christ as I did good deeds. Wrong! It seems that there were some details to be worked out. Being basically Biblically illiterate, I didn’t know that repentance and transformation would be expected of me.

First came the conviction of sin. God was not happy that I was dragging my feet about turning away from various behaviors that I knew were sinful. I learned that the Bible actually teaches us about sin! What an amazing discovery when I learned about all the sinful ways that we can separate ourselves from God.

Next came conviction of selfishness. God was not happy that I didn’t put my relationship with Him above all human relationships. I thought I could keep my life just as it was and simply add Jesus. This is not what God expects from His sons and daughters.

Then God began to challenge every value that I had ever formed. He demanded that I destroy every idol in my life and only worship Him. This involved a complete change in world view. Away with the worship of various other false gods including prayers to the Virgin Mary. Away with various repetitive mental meditative exercises designed to still the mind and contact God. Away with Gnostic and New Age beliefs that God is in everything and in everyone. Away with Biblical relativism and “higher criticism” where the accuracy and truthfulness of the Bible is constantly being challenged. One by one these idols and many others fell — sometimes easily, and sometimes with tremendous agony and resistance.

Of course God was not finished, because with all these changes that began to appear in my life, He also began to speak to me about self-righteousness. He reminded me that He was the one who brought me out of darkness and it was His hand that was guiding me. He has brought me a great distance in the past six years, however, I am far from perfect. He reveals this to me by pointing me toward the narrow way and the narrow gate.

Mat 7:13-14 (NASB)
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

These questions are helpful for those who wish to be a light in the world.

Today, is my life less like the world than it was yesterday?
Does the way I am living my life reveal the light of Jesus to those who do not know Him?
Can I offer credible evidence that the Holy Spirit is continually reshaping my life?

When I begin to wonder about the on-going work of salvation in my life because I cannot answer a clear “yes” to the above questions, then I also need to ask if I am still walking in the narrow way. If my heart is troubled by my uncertainty, then it is usually time to begin praying again. If my heart is not continually being transformed, then I am probably wandering off the narrow way and am no longer headed toward the narrow gate.

When the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and mind, then we experience the pressure of ever increasing constriction in our lives. The narrow way is not an imaginary mental construct. It is an actual place of continual movement where we should live our lives. When we are in the narrow way, we feel the corrective hand of God on our left and on our right. With every passing day the narrow way gets a little narrower. God is systematically working to refine us and to separate us from worldliness, sin, selfishness, and self-righteousness. As God succeeds in purifying us, we begin to shine more and more. As our light grows, it becomes evident to the world that we are different. This is not an optional part of being a Christian. We are commanded to “shine as a light in the world.”

If you no longer believe that you are walking on the narrow way and do not feel the correcting hand of God in your life, or have never really felt it, then pray for a course correction.

Lord Jesus, prepare me to be a shining light in the world by showing me how to walk in the narrow way and keep passing through the narrow gate. I long to submit to you. I am willing to be corrected. I am willing to repent. I am willing to have my life transformed. I am willing to let you refine my mind and heart, and to let you address my entire life – I exclude nothing. I am willing to have my life be a light to those who live in darkness. I am willing to follow you and not look back. Amen.

Colossians 1:27 – Christ in you the hope of glory

“Christ in you the hope of glory”
(Colossians 1:27)

As soon as I considered this verse, I began to think of questions such as these. How does Christ get into us? Is He really in us or just standing near us? Is He always in us or is He just in us at certain times? These questions seem to be quite different from those having to do with “being born of the Spirit.” I don’t have answers to these questions, but I believe Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us some answers and needed guidance.

I recall a time when I was a massage therapy student. This was prior to my being born again of the Holy Spirit. I had a deep love and respect for the Christ, but my relationship with Him was quite impersonal. It was a time in my life when I was experiencing the first glimpse of Jesus as a personal God with whom I could have a relationship. Before each therapy session, I would pray for the healing of my clients. One day during this prayer time, I experienced Jesus say something like, “You could pray for your clients while you are doing therapy. You could even invite me to be in your hands as you work. You could do this especially when you are uncertain about how to help your clients.”

It was a very strange experience to accept this invitation. It was strange, because I felt God at work. Several of my clients also felt it even though I gave no outward indication of what I was doing. I received comments like, “I don’t know what you did during my treatment, but you need to know that it was the most spiritual experience I have ever had in my life.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel free to explain what I was doing. Nevertheless, some of my clients experienced remarkable life transforming healing in their physiology and emotional functioning.

In the next verse of Colossians, which follows the scripture for today, Paul begins to describe how Christ gets into us.

Col 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Having chosen to extend an invitation to Jesus, been educated by mature Christians, and having begun the life-long process of mind renewal, we are ready to do something. This does not mean going out and doing something under our own power, but to engage the world in a new way.

Col 2:6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,
Col 2:7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Col 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
Col 2:10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;

Lord Jesus, I am grateful for the fact that you are willing to be in me. Lord, I pray that I will never stop seeking to have you live in me. I pray that you will be in my mind, my heart, and all my actions. Please forgive me for letting Satan control my thoughts, drive my feelings, and manage my affairs. You are the one who I want to dwell in me. I seek you once again and look forward to knowing you in the fullness of your glory in Heaven.

Col 3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Col 3:2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Lord Jesus, grant me the power to live in a way that is worthy of being a child of God. Strengthen me that my life will be lived in right relationship with You.

Col 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Col 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Col 3:14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Col 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Col 3:17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Amen.

(All Bible quotations are from the NASV)

Arrested – Matthew 10:18-20

Arrested – Matthew 10:18-20

“On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

I have never even come close to being arrested. Based on this scripture, I don’t believe this is such a great accomplishment. Of course, I am glad that I have not broken the law for my own sake, but I have never put myself in a position where I was truly standing up for the Gospel in a public way.

Socially and professionally, stating that one is a born again Christian has some risks, but those are minimal as long as a person does not ask others to modify their choices and behaviors. Tolerance is generally extended to Christians in the United States, thus far, as long as we don’t proselytize too much or make demands on the dominant economic and political systems. However, when the Holy Spirit reaches deep within our soul and activates true love and true compassion for others who suffer because of the choices that are made by business, educational, and political organizations, then the heat is on and we must make a serious personal choice.

The choice is to listen to God and speak out about the instructions of Jesus. Among His instructions are: “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), “…LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (Matthew 22:39), and “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). If we persistently apply the words of Jesus to the behavior of business, educational, political, and even church organizations, then we risk persecution.

For Jesus clearly stated, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20. The question each of us must face as Christians is: Am I willing to risk persecution and imprisonment for the sake of Jesus or will I always play it safe? If we always play it safe, then we will never experience the following promise of Jesus.

“On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

As I reflect on my own life, I can easily generate many reasons for “playing it safe.” Sadly, none of those reasons carry much weight in the Kingdom of God. In the affluent countries of the world, “playing it safe” is a way of life for most Christians and most church organizations. Will you pray with me for revival? Revival begins with the individual and spreads into the world. It is a rapid intrusion of God’s Kingdom into the worldly kingdom of Satan. Revival begins with personal repentance. There is much sin involved with “playing it safe.” Are you willing to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the sin that hinders you from stepping out of the safety zone and risking arrest for God’s sake? Are you willing to repent for your part in encouraging the Body of Christ to “play it safe” by being nearly silent about matters of God’s clear instructions?

Lord Jesus, I pray that you will reveal to me the attitudes and beliefs that dwell in my heart and mind, which hinder me from fully serving you. I do not long to be persecuted for the sake of the world, but I am willing to suffer with you when persecution comes because of your love. I pray that you will open my mind and my heart to your truth, so that I will preach your word with boldness, and follow your instructions to love my enemies, do good to those who hate us, love my neighbor as myself, and make the way free of hindrances so that children can easily come to You. I repent for playing it safe and desire a newly revived relationship with you. I invite your Holy Spirit to live in the areas of my life that I have been withholding from You. I pray that my personal revival will quickly spread into the heart and mind of every person I meet, and each person will be transformed by your love. Lord Jesus we all need the true life-giving revival that only you can bring. Amen.

Raised from the Death of Sexual Sin – 1Cor 6:13-20

Raised from the Death of Sexual Sin

Article: Family, Singleness and Marriage
(1st Corinthians 6:13-20)

13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!
16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Christians, Pastors and Church Pornography Statistics

“A 1996 Promise Keepers survey at one of their stadium events revealed that over 50% of the men in attendance were involved with pornography within one week of attending the event.”

“51% of pastors say cyber-porn is a possible temptation. 37% say it is a current struggle (Christianity Today, Leadership Survey, 12/2001).”

“Over half of evangelical pastors admits viewing pornography last year.”

“Roger Charman of Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Ministries reports that approximately 20 percent of the calls received on their Pastoral Care Line are for help with issues such as pornography and compulsive sexual behavior.”

View source of statistics: http://www.safefamilies.org/sfStats.php

Most people who call themselves Christian understand that sexual behavior should be limited to the marriage covenant that God has established with one man and one woman. Within Marriage, a husband and wife are free to enjoy sexual relations. Yet, as the preceding statistics illustrate, behavior is not consistent with basic Christian knowledge. Why is sexual sin so widespread? Why do married and single Christians accept sin as a natural part of life? Can we be more than “Saved Sinners?”

When I was 16-years old, I decided that there was no sin associated with what two unmarried consenting adults might do together in the privacy of a bedroom. I also decided that there was no sin in what a person did with his or her mind with respect to sexual fantasies. I clung to these beliefs for a couple decades even though I was married. I held these beliefs with high regard even though I believed in the existence of Jesus Christ. I established my own rules for marital fidelity, and thought myself to be quite wise.

My thinking began to change when I invited the Holy Spirit into my life. Little did I know that when I extended an invitation to the Holy Spirit to be active in my life and to give me his gifts; I would receive something else. What I received was conviction for my habitual patterns of sin. It was not until many months of house cleaning and extensive correction of my belief system had been accomplished that I could begin to understand that I did not have the power to prevent the slide into sexual sin. Fortunately, I did not fall into the belief that sin is inevitable, even for Christians. I did not come into agreement with Satan’s well propagated lie that sexual sin is something that we must beat back with a stick through our own will, so we can have a few hours or days of freedom from the torment. God showed me in very practical terms that He would free me from sexual sin, compulsions, and addictions if I decided to make that choice. How does God bring us this freedom? Let’s consider 1st Corinthians 6:14 in today’s scripture.

14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.

Perhaps at first glance, verse 14 seems like a misplaced thought. Was Paul doing some kind of stream of consciousness thinking as he wrote and just dropped this thought into this letter at this point, because it sounded good? I don’t think so. Paul’s letters are very well thought out.

What is Paul stating in this verse? I believe Paul is saying that God used His power to raise Jesus from the dead and He will use that same power to raise us up and out of our sin. Paul started talking about sexual sin prior to verse 14, then he immediately reinforces a basic fact about the power of God. He inserted the reminder about God’s transforming power into the discussion of sexual sin. We don’t have to accept sexual sin; God will raise us out of it. The tempter may try to seduce, but God’s Holy Spirit will give us the strength to honor the temple that we were given to occupy.

Based on what I have observed, there are a few conditions for those who wish to receive this help.
1. The willingness to admit that we have sexual sin in our lives.
2. A desire to live without sexual sin, and the willingness to admit that we cannot fix this problem without God.
3. The willingness to examine the negative emotions (and their source/origin) that are always triggered before one engages in sexual sin.
4. The willingness to be honest with God about our personal justification for sexual sin.
5. A freely made decision to ask God whether our specific self justifications are true.
6. The willingness to trust God and receive the truth that God will give us, so that His power can set us free from bondage to the lies we believe.

Those who wish to be free of sexual sin, whether of the body or in the mind, can obtain God’s permanent peace. No Christian must live in servitude to sexual sin and pornography. God can and will bring permanent peace to those who surrender their self-will to His healing and transforming power. I encourage any man or woman who struggles with sexual sin to begin your walk to freedom today. Given the statistics on pastors involved with pornography, I encourage those who wish to become free to choose counsel carefully. There are ministries identified on the internet and in larger cities that can assist. You might want to begin with this prayer.

Lord Jesus, you know my past and you know what I have been doing with my body and my mind. I do not have the strength to stop my sexual sin. I need your help. I cannot fix this problem by myself. I pray for the grace to stop and for the willingness to open my heart and mind to the truth bringing power of your love. I pray for the willingness to obtain help from those who have already overcome sexual sin, and who are now living in the peace that you have given them. Amen.

Until you have received God’s perfect peace in this area of your life, I urge you to take Paul’s advice offered to us in 1Cor 6:18, “Flee immorality.” An alcoholic who is recovering from alcohol addiction must flee bars, must remove alcohol from the home, stop associating with those who drink, strengthen his/her relationship with God, and associate with those who have already overcome active addiction. Similarly, flee situations and people who are sources of sexual temptation, and choose to turn to God in prayer when pain triggers the desire for sexual sin. Pray for God’s strength everyday and whenever temptation rises.

Fruit of Forgiveness

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.””
(Matthew 18: 21-22)

The following three questions are central to Christian living.

How do I forgive?
How often must I forgive?
How do I know I have successfully forgiven?

There are two aspects of forgiveness that confront me in my life. These are outward forgiveness and inward forgiveness. Outward forgiveness is the act of telling another person that I forgive him for his transgressions exercised against me. Inward forgiveness is the willingness to let go of all anger, bitterness, and desire for revenge and to be completely humbled before God to such a degree that I am willing to lovingly serve those who have wounded me.

There are some people who will not forgive others. They stew and ferment ill-will against every person who has ever offended them. They are honest about the fact that they are judging and do not hide their true feelings. The lack of forgiveness is a wedge between the person and God as well as a powerful force of isolation in all human relationships. As sinful as this pattern of unforgiveness is, it is equally destructive when compared to the insincere person who appears to forgive freely. I was the insincere type. I would say the words “I forgive you” when ever I was asked. It didn’t matter how much pain I felt or whether I was willing to forgive – I simply spoke the words, because it was the Christian thing to do. However, deep within me was a storehouse of hurt, bitterness, anger, and condemning judgment, which I struggled to release. Sometimes I would think “Finally I have forgiven!” only to find myself a few days later judging the person in my mind all over again.

Based on the life of Jesus, I believe it is safe to say that Jesus successfully accomplished external and internal forgiveness. His life from the beginning of His ministry to His last breath on the cross to the moment of His ascension into Heaven revealed the fruits of forgiveness. The fruits of forgiveness are humility, love, and obedience to the will of our Father in Heaven. The ultimate fruit of forgiveness is servanthood. The failure to forgive estranges us from God and removes us from dependency on God’s provision and God’s rulership in our life. It also drains love and joy from life.

There are two forms of prayer that help me to sincerely forgive when I am unwilling to let go of the bitterness and the hate that threaten to trap me in Satan’s snares. I cannot say this strongly enough; prolonged unforgiveness is a sin, and unforgiveness gives great delight to Satan. Additionally, unforgiveness is an open invitation to Satan to occupy the human mind and heart. The first form of prayer is to ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand what I believe about my specific situation of unforgiveness.

Lord, why am I stuck in anger? Lord, what do I believe that is owed to me? Lord, please show me why I insist on judging my brother. Lord, where does this pattern of self-righteousness come from? Lord, help me face my true beliefs about myself, my true beliefs about you, and my true beliefs about my earliest memories of those who have wounded or neglected me. Finally, Lord Jesus, reveal your truth. Is what I believe true? Lord Jesus, correct me, guide me, and show me your truth in any way that pleases you.

Such a prayer quietly spoken during times of Spirit led reflection into my unforgiveness will begin to unlock what is stuck. I must be willing to choose to face my pain and to honestly experience all of my feelings especially the ones I want to keep secret. Nothing is hidden from God, so it is silly to refuse to tell him how I really feel, and what I really believe. When I am honest with God and humbly invite Him to be honest with me, He will move mountains in my life. However, very little will happen until I choose to bring the totality of my unforgiveness to God.

The first prayer is to ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand what I believe. The second form of prayer involves praying for God to bless those who have wounded me. I will use the generic subject of “brother” in this prayer, but I encourage you to personalize the prayer by including the name of the person who needs your forgiveness. A prayer of this type might go like this.

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit into my heart and mind to shape my prayer for the wellbeing and blessing of my brother. Lord Jesus intercede for me in my weakness. It is no longer acceptable to hold any negative feeling or thought against my brother. I am weak, but You Lord Jesus are strong. Shower Your love and Your grace upon my brother. Be merciful with Him. Hold him close to Your heart. Protect him and nurture him. Lord Jesus help him develop his gifts and elevate him to the status that you desire for him. I pray that I may serve You Lord Jesus by serving him.

Ultimately, this second form of prayer seeks to establish a closer relationship with God, both for the person speaking the prayer and for the subject of the prayer. The phrase “by serving him” is very important. Ask God how you can serve your brother or sister. Servanthood and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. These two actions of Christian living cut to the core of what it means to be a Christian. Why did Jesus tell His disciples to forgive “seventy-seven times?” I believe He said this to show the importance of forgiveness. Sometimes I am called upon to forgive one time wounds and sometimes it will be the recurrent patterns of behavior that call me to forgiveness. Regardless of the pattern of forgiveness that lies before me, I am clearly instructed by the words and life of Jesus to make forgiveness one of my highest priorities. I deceive no one when I try to hide my unforgiveness — everyone around me will se the fruit of unforgiveness, and God always knows the truth.

Lord Jesus, I am still learning to forgive and to serve. There is no greater teacher than You. Show me how to forgive my brothers and sisters quickly and to serve them with a joyous heart that has been humbled by your love. Amen.

Living in the Church of Jesus Christ

Living in the Church of Jesus Christ

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13

I started writing this commentary two days ago when the topic was “What does it mean to be saved?” I struggled in my writing and failed to say anything coherent, probably, because I had more to learn about the subject. I put away my previous writing, with the assumption that I would pick the thread up again in a month or two when something about baptism and salvation came around again. God showed me the missing pieces in my thinking through my very recent study of John Howard Yoder’s book, The Politics of Jesus. His work offers a timely contribution to my commentary on the scriptures for both March 11, and March 13.

I think I was 18-years old when I was invited to attend the first day of a three-day seminar being conducted by a nationally known Christian leader. We prayed, sang, and listened to him teach biblical legalism in all forms of relationships. Knowing my negative feeling about religion at that point in my life, I still wonder how I became willing to attend the event that was held in a professional basketball arena in Detroit. Nevertheless there I was exposed like a clam on the seashore waiting for the tide to cover me with sand and water again. During our lunch break, I was asked by one of the guys I was with, “When were you saved?” It seemed like such a bizarre question at that point in my life. I stammered and stuttered for a few minutes and then said, “I don’t know.” This led to a brief series of questions; after which it was determined that I had not been saved. I was OK with the conclusion, because the appearance of those who were “saved” wasn’t very appealing to me. The guys with whom I was talking were hopeful that I would get saved that evening. I guess I disappointed them, because I didn’t leave my seat during the altar call. I was raised Roman Catholic, and didn’t feel unsaved. I didn’t think I needed saving even though I was living in habitual sexual sin and desiring to escalate my sinful behavior.

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

In my life journey through many different denominations, I have pondered this with more and more earnestness. In my conversation with Christian brothers and sisters, I have witnessed many different points of view. Some think that a simple one-time confession of faith in Jesus fixes everything: past, present, and future. It’s a ticket to heaven that any intelligent person should acquire by saying “Jesus I believe that you are the son of God. Jesus I am a sinner. Please forgive me.” Others think that infant baptism is all that is needed for salvation, and still others suggest that we must earn our way to heaven and we won’t know we are saved until the great Day of Judgment.

How far do we have to go in order to be “saved?”

I was in a Bible study group about a year ago, which was studying Romans. I remember one of the members painfully questioning whether she had really been saved. I think we were all shocked by her honesty and couldn’t engage with her. We had been using inductive Bible study methods to help us understand Roman’s Chapter 12. My fellow student was questioning her salvation in reaction to Paul’s description of love and Christian living in that chapter. As I reflect back on that conversation, it is interesting that no one told her she was saved or helped her examine her concerns.

I know that my life didn’t begin to get straitened out until I got off the fence and could honestly say “Jesus is the son of God and I give my life to Him as my Lord and savior.” Even then, my life was filled with turmoil, because of the immense amount of sin that needed to be confessed. Even after many months of soul searching inspection by the Holy Spirit and hours of confession before a brother and sister in Christ, I still wasn’t ready to follow Christ. Technically, I had been saved from hell, but I was still being prepared for life in Heaven. God wasn’t done with me, because of my confession of faith; He was just beginning to build a relationship with a very broken man.

In the protestant evangelical circles, which I used to frequent, I saw Jesus as the great train conductor. He was calling people to get on board the glory train to heaven. The cost of passage was a confession of faith in Jesus. I was on that train with people who were mostly strangers. It was very confusing, because life on the train just didn’t seem very different than life had been at the train station. There was a lot of talk about Jesus and love, but minimal evidence of Christian living. Life in the church often seemed indistinguishable from life in the world that Satan Rules.

I knew there was much more to Jesus than His serving as a holy ticket taker, and from time to time I would experience his Glory in the church, but why was it so in frequent?

Today I don’t think about being saved or rest in the completed work that Jesus has done in my life, because I am living in a new world. John Howard Yoder’s images of this new world speak strongly to me, and they lie just beneath the surface of what follows. John Howard Yoder describes salvation as the opening of a door. When I think about this image, I experience salvation as an open door to a new world, which is the Kingdom of God. Once we step through that door, which is Christ, we behold the new creation that we could not see before. This new world invites us to live a new life in a covenant of love. We are free to live that life or to continue living the old life. Sadly, the teaching in many churches is that it is OK to go on living the old life of selfishness even though we have stepped through the door of salvation and have begun to view God’s Kingdom. Church becomes a kind of weekly visit where we try to jump across the threshold and grab a glimpse of the Kingdom of God before we go on with another week of self centered living. I have observed this behavior and have been perplexed by it. Am I just trying to be too holy, or is “salvation” really the radical call of God to completely change my life style? I keep hearing Jesus saying “Follow me,” but where is He calling me?

In my heart I feel the powerful call to live in the Kingdom of God. It is not an obsession to do good or follow the rules, rather it is about love. Salvation is about the covenant we make with brothers and sisters in Christ. Salvation is about serving and forgiving. Salvation is about lovingly laying down one’s life and ones money for the Kingdom of God. It is about accepting the fact that we are full-time residents of God’s Kingdom even though we live among worldly people and worldly institutions. Servanthood and forgiveness of others are the two ways that express the covenant we make with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is through these actions of daily living in loving covenant that we live out our salvation and truly live in the Church of Jesus Christ.

As I pray and write these commentaries, God reveals pictures for me to describe to you. Today, He asked me to reveal a fact about myself. — I am completely blind. — I have not previously discussed my absence of physical sight, because it seemed irrelevant to my comments about my relationship with God. But today, God asked me to share this fact with you for His purposes. Perhaps the reason lies in the nature of His Church, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1Corinthians 12:12-13)

I pray Lord Jesus that the entirety of my life be useful to You and to the plans that you have made for Your Kingdom. I pray that I listen more thoroughly to Your call and live in the covenant of Love that marks true Christian living. Lord, strengthen me that I be willing to be a faithful and fulltime resident in Your Kingdom. Lead me into greater truth and expanded fellowship so that you will be glorified. Help me patiently follow Your time schedule. Amen.