God

Reaching Out

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As I mentioned in an earlier post on Thinking Out Loud, I’ve been posting to a few online publications on Medium. Here are posts and Bible studies I’ve revised, edited, and reformatted from previous posts on Word-Strong for the publication Koinonia.

Take some time to read, think, and respond if you’d like. Thanks for reading!


How is a Spark of Faith Ignited in a Person’s Heart?

What does it take for a person to become a believer in God? Is it a certain understanding?

How is a spark of faith ignited in a person’s heart?

I don’t know of one specific answer. In fact, when you ask a hundred different people how they came to believe, you may get a hundred different answers.

If you ask a theologian, he may give you one specific answer. But if you ask several different theologians and philosophers, you’ll get a gaggle of answers. Read more…


Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The Word of God in Person

My own darkness

The opening verses of the Gospel of John are important and significant to me. Though I believed in the existence of God from my youth, I had a nebulous, vague sense of God.

Throughout my teen and college years, I wandered in the darkness of my ignorance and whatever the world around me had to offer. Read more…


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How Acceptance of God Brings Acceptance and Inclusion

When does life begin — at conception or birth?

Before 1973, the obvious answer would be at conception but the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision changed that in America. That decision may have changed people’s opinions but it didn’t change basic biology.

In Asia, age is generally determined by conception and the lunar calendar. For centuries and centuries in the rest of the world and biologically, conception is seen as the beginning of life.


Stop Trying So Hard to Be a Good Christian!

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems — “Stop it!” If you’ve never seen it, click on this link–Stop it! for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life’s problems were that simple—to just stop doing something. Well, in some ways it is. But many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. But why?

Why don’t we just stop doing not-such-good things in order to start doing better things? Read more…

Those People Are Us

Those people!

Are there people in your life who only seem to come around when they have some need? Then they act like they’re your BFF?

They may want to borrow some money, need a ride, or be rescued from some crisis. They come to you when they need help but when the need is met, they’re gone again. When another need arises they’ll be back for more help.

In my roles as pastor in the US and later as a director of two ministries overseas, this was a common occurrence. I found some people to be in chronic need of help. Little time would pass when some new crisis hit their life.

But there were some people who needed assistance but once it was given they seemed to be stable and able to move forward on their own.

Some people just blurt out what they need or want right away. But for some, it takes a while to build up the courage to ask for whatever it is they need.

One lesson my wife and I learned over the years is there is not enough money or time to fill the needs of those who came to us for help. We had limited resources and limitations on our capacity to help.

So we did what we could with what we had to offer.

We are those people

The thing is—we are those people with God. You and me. All of us. Think about it. Be honest.

Continue reading this post on Medium—click here– Those People Are Us

A Heart of Compassion

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Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

Grandparents

I can spot grandparents right away. It’s not the age differential but their interaction with children. Grandparents, especially boomers, tend to look younger than earlier generations and some become grandparents in their forties.

When I see three generations of a family together, it’s easy to see who the parents are. Aside from their appearance, parents and grandparents interact with the children in very different ways.

Parents wear the day-to-day responsibility on their faces and have the countenance of marathon runners mid-way in a race. Grandparents now enjoy the race as spectators. But, they are experienced spectators.

Imagine God the Father as a grandparent. In a sense, He is. His Son Jesus has many children who trust in the Father through Him. Perhaps Jesus is more like an elder brother but you get the idea (Hebrews 2:10 GW).

Relating to God as Father

As a pastor, I’ve known many people who find it hard to relate to God as a father, because of their relationship with their own earthly father. But God has lots of experience as a father — for hundreds of generations.

He’s the Almighty Father — full of compassion with mercy that endures forever (Ps 136).

I’m a father of four and a grandfather of seven (so far!). Although I liked playing with my children a lot when they were young, playing with grandkids is now a special role for me. I love it, just as so many other grandfathers do!

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Imagine God the Father as a grandparent

I’m sure you’ve seen grandparents fawn over their grandchildren, acting as if they’re the only children on the face of the earth. It’s because the affection and compassion that fills our hearts outweigh our responsibility for them.

I’ve seen fathers who were strict authoritarians melt into sugary cupcakes as grandpas. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is something extraordinary and beyond description.

God’s love knows no boundaries

As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13 GW)

This text uses the word compassion but it could also be translated as mercy. This is the heart of God (Luke 6:36) whose mercies are new every morning(Lam 3:21–23).

Even though God’s mercy is an overflowing reservoir of compassion, it is reserved most for those who recognize Him for who He is — God Almighty.

The fear of God is not a cowering, anxious dread but a respectful sense of awe and wonder. He is awesome in the truest sense of the word. Fearing God is a secure relationship of trust—a trust in He who is all-powerful.

To read more click here

It's Easter Time!

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What are you celebrating?

When I see bright-colored eggs and chocolate bunnies in pastel-colored displays, I know it must be near Easter. Unless you understand the calendar timing of Easter Sunday, you probably have to check online like I do to find when Easter falls each year.

Easter isn't a big marketing holiday but stores do their best to feature lots of eggs, egg-coloring dyes, baskets, and chocolate and marshmallow bunnies and chicks. And don't forget the food! Ham is a favorite along with some scalloped potatoes or au gratin perhaps, and if you're traditional, some hot-cross buns.

But what are we celebrating with all of this? Is there a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? Well, yes and no. And what about all those other traditional days people observe like Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday?

How are all of these things related or are they? Exactly! I think there's a lot of confusion about what is being celebrated and, of course, lots of back and forth about how Christians should celebrate Easter Sunday.

Some background on Easter

Easter Sunday is a big celebration for Christian churches. Not only is it an important celebration, it's one of those Sundays when a lot of people who don't normally go to church attend a service, especially if it's a sunrise service.

Our church holds an Easter sunrise service at the beach each year and it's a beautiful and well-attended celebration. I'm partial to sunrise services because it connects so well with the story of the Lord Jesus' resurrection in all four of the gospels.

Back to the question of whether there's a difference between Easter and Resurrection Sunday? There is but some background on other more traditional observances of the church needs to be considered first.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season that runs for forty days up to Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus' fasting in the wilderness for forty days and His temptation by the devil at the end of the fasting (Matt 4:1-11).

It's observed as a time to give up some pleasure or part of daily life routine as a sacrifice. It was not observed by the early church but developed and set as a church observance in 325 BC. It's observed mostly by Catholic churches and many traditional Protestant churches.

Paschal Triduum

Palm Sunday combined with the final days before Easter Sunday are considered Holy or Passion Week. The Paschal Triduum includes three important days. Which ones? It depends on who you ask or what you accept as the three most important days.

The title is drawn from Pascha, the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Pesach for the Passover. The Passover or Seder Supper is based on the first Passover in Exodus 12, which was fulfilled by the Lord's atoning death on the cross.

Which three days? Traditionally it's been Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday but others, including me, opt for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday.

Palm Sunday

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Lightstock.com

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It commemorates Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as He was hailed by crowds of people crying out, "Hosanna (Oh Save!) to the Son of David!" (Matt 21:1-11). It is the beginning of Holy Week that concludes with Easter Sunday.

Although the early church didn't observe it, the church in Jerusalem started to observe it about the late third or early fourth century. When Jesus entered Jerusalem that day it was a fulfillment of a Messianic prophecy (Zech 9:9; Matt 21:4-5).

Sadly, many in the crowd who waved palm branches and shouted out "Hosanna!" to hail whom they believed to be the Messiah later yelled out, "Crucify Him!" (Matt 27:15-26). It illustrates how quickly emotions and opinions can change people's minds regardless of the truth.

Maundy Thursday

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Maundy Thursday commemorates the last night Jesus spent with His closest followers as told in John chapters 13 through 17. It begins with Jesus washing the disciples' feet, which included His betrayer Judas (John 13:1-17), on the night He ate the Passover feast with them (Luke 22:14-23).

The word Maundy is taken from the Latin word for command in acknowledgment of the Lord's new commandment to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). This is something that needs to be remembered and practiced far more often than once a year!

Good Friday

I remember participating in Good Friday services as one of a group of pastors in the community where we shared on one of the last seven sayings of Jesus on the cross. It was a good reminder of how we are one Body—one Church unified by Jesus and His work of redemption on the cross.

My first time in the Philippines was on Good Friday where the whole country virtually comes to a  standstill to observe this solemn day with processions and prayers. As believers, we need to reflect on the atoning death of Jesus—the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Not just for His sacrifice but the purpose of His sacrifice.

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When Jesus was lifted up on the cross on Golgotha (John 19:17-18), He fulfilled the Passover once and for all (Heb 9:12, 26; 10:10, 12). This is why it is Good Friday! It may have originally been God's Friday but morphed into Good—like God's spell (story) became Gospel.

The very purpose of Jesus dying on the cross was to provide a way for all humanity to be reconciled with God the Father. God came to earth Himself as the Son of God to offer Himself for all people.

All of Jesus' earthly ministry and presence was focused on this day followed by His resurrection—His death and resurrection cannot and should not be separated in our understanding of God's work of redemption. And so, it is Good Friday but remember—as an old hymn declares—Sunday is coming!

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the official end of the Lenten season. It's also called Black Saturday in the Philippines and other places. It's a reminder of Jesus' burial in the tomb. But thankfully, it's not the end of the story!

Easter—Resurrection Sunday

Although most of us know this day of celebration as Easter, I prefer the use of Resurrection Sunday because it expresses what's most important. It's uncertain how it became known as Easter but an early connection to its origin is to the Saxon goddess of spring, Eastre. 

The important thing is to distinguish the difference between how the world around us observes Easter and why believers celebrate it. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption (1 Cor 15:13-17). 

Without the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no hope of eternal life and there is no true redemption
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The resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the third day after His death was the primary focus of the gospel for the early church, as seen throughout the book of Acts. It is central to Christian theology. The hope of salvation and eternal life hang on the physical resurrection of Jesus.

It's what the Lord pointed the disciples to before and immediately after His death and resurrection (Matt 16:21; Luke 24:44-47). The resurrection came on the first day of the week (our Sunday) and was the first true Christian holiday observed by the early church and the reason they began to meet on the first day of the week rather than on the last day.

I've written about this many times and in my book. Here are a few links if you're interested—

Easter or Resurrection Sunday?

So, what are you celebrating on Easter? It's easy to react to the idea of a pagan origin to Easter but the resurrection of Christ is biblical and important. It really doesn't matter what you call the day (Rom 14:5-9). What is important is why we celebrate it.

A traditional greeting for Resurrection Sunday is for one person to say, "He is risen!" and for others to reply, "He is risen indeed!" That is the essence of our hope in Jesus.

A simple way to get a true perspective on Holy Week, or Passion Week if you prefer, is to read the account of it all in the Bible. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the power of the story—God's story of redemption through His Son Jesus—trying to sort out the what and why.

Not that understanding isn't important, it is, but understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself. When you read—allow yourself to soak in all that is written, even read it aloud, so you can see it with your mind's eye. Reading more dynamic versions of the Bible may help and you can also listen to audio versions of the Bible.

Understanding often comes as we immerse ourselves in the story itself

Here are some reading suggestions so you can do that—

Scripture Readings

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

  • Matthew Chaps 26–27
  • Mark Chaps 14–15
  • Luke Chaps 22–23
  • John Chaps 13–17 and 18–19

Resurrection Sunday

  • Matthew 28
  • Mark 16
  • Luke 24
  • John 20–21
He is risen! He is risen indeed!

 

True Repentant Prayer

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Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

What does true repentance look like?

As I've written before, the idea of repentance gets turned around from what God desires. Too often it's seen as a person's responsibility to change the direction of their life 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

Although there's truth to that, it puts the cart before the horse. It's backward to think a person needs to straighten out his or her life before they turn to God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God. This is the change of direction that's needed! When a person turns toward God they turn their back on what they need to repent of and turn to the one Person who can bring real change— God.

The first step of true repentance is turning towards God

This is the essence of the first three steps of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and similar 12-step programs are geared towards the restoration of a person's life through freedom from addiction.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration. It should not be an attempt at restitution. It's not about doing good or making good karma. It's about a restored relationship between a person and God.

The goal of biblical repentance is restoration

A story of lust gone wrong

The pursuit of a restored relationship with God is seen in King David's prayer in Psalm 51—a true repentant prayer. The life context of this prayer is found in chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel.

The story of David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong. The gist of the story is King David taking advantage of his role as king of Israel, committing adultery, then trying to cover it up.

David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong

But God doesn't let David get away with it all, at all. God sends a prophet to David who tells him a parable with a foil—a trap David sets for himself (2 Sam 12:1-7).

The story goes downhill from this point with a tragic turn and later consequences in David's life—but that's, as they say, another story for another time.

A man after God’s heart?

King David was a great leader as a warrior-king but the example of his personal life wasn’t so good. He was an adulterer and murderer. 

He lied and deceived others—even a priest of God. His actions at various points in life brought grave consequences upon the whole nation of Israel—the people who loved him.

And yet, God saw David as a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14). What is it about David that God saw as good?

David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51—after his grievous sin with Bathsheba and confrontation by Nathan the prophet—reveals David’s heart and gives insight into true repentance.

What is it about David that God saw as good?

A perfect prayer of repentance

A look at David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51

  • David's plea for mercy—Psalm 51:1-2
    • see how David appeals to God’s merciful compassion, authority, and power in his life to forgive and “wash” him on the inside—his heart.
  • David's confession of sin—Psalm 51:3-6—
    • David expresses his guilt and acknowledges his sin is ultimately against God—even though it effects many other people.
    • He also acknowledges God’s righteous judgment of his own sinfulness and wrong—that it’s the opposite of what David knew to be right.
  • David begins to request restoration—Psalm 51:7-9—
    • David seeks what is necessary for restoration to take place and acknowledges that only God can forgive and restore him.
  • 6 elements of true repentance and restoration—Psalm 51:10-12—
    • David asks God for a pure heart—a heart free from sin
    • David asks God to renew his spirit—to move from brokenness to wholeness
    • David wants to maintain access into God’s presence
    • David also asks for God’s Spirit to remain with him
    • David asks for a restoration of God’s salvation—God’s assurance of His forgiveness and acceptance in David’s life because of God’s mercy and grace
    • David asks for a willing spirit—he knows God’s restoration requires a willingness on his part to submit his life to God first
  • A glimpse of the benefit of restoration—Psalm 51:13-15—
    • David understands that his own life needs to be in right order before he can tell others of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness.
  • What God doesn't and does desire from us—Psalm 51:16-17—
    • David knows God isn’t interested in what we have to offer Him (sacrifices or offerings) for God desires a brokenness and repentant spirit and heart in us.
  • The resulting benefit of things made right with God—Psalm 51:18-19—
    • David knows that when things are right with God—blessings will follow and a person’s devotion and service to God are acceptable.

Step by step

What true repentance looks like—

David's prayer in Psalm 51 is what true repentance looks like.

First—to turn to God for His forgiveness and restoration—always the first most important step. Then, accept His forgiveness by faith and allow God to work His restoration into your life.

Can you relate to David's struggle and need?

Are you willing to follow his example of repentance?