Posts Tagged ‘temptation’

The Devil’s Chessboard

Friday, August 15th, 2014

So that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes! 2 Corinthians 2:11

“Be watchful; the world is the devil’s chessboard! You can hardly move backward or forward, but he is ready to attack you with some temptation!”

Those who play at the game of chess know that great caution is needed. Your opponent is working toward a design of which you know nothing; and while you imagine that you are doing exceedingly well, he is entrapping you!

The game of life
, as against Satan, is one in which . . .
his maneuvers and artifice,
his long practice and stratagems,
his superior skill and deceptiveness,
and his unscrupulousness–
give him an immense advantage over our poor self-conceited folly!

Lord, help us! You know our adversary; be pleased to deliver us out of his hand.

“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes!” Ephesians 6:11

~ Charles Spurgeon, “Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden” 1883

The Truth Shall Set You Free, part 10

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

This study was done during the last semester of my teaching career. A lot of things were on my mind. The letter of resignation had been written and accepted. I was starting to have dialogs with different campus constituencies about an orderly exit regarding pension, health plans, etc. I met my successor but stayed out of the process of his selection. I got an early start on cleaning out the office. I wanted an orderly exit so that on the last day of my tenure as a teacher, I would walk out and not return.

I had been asked to deliver the Baccalaureate address to the graduating seniors. That would be my last official act. I was working through various texts of Scripture to find some ideas. It was tempting to work up something out of the present study, but it seemed perhaps a bit too remote for wide-eyed seniors with cheek champing at the bit to get off campus as soon as possible. After all, they had a lot on their minds too.

The text really was out of the last 13 chapters of Genesis. It was the story of Joseph. The themes of the talk, which was to last 14 minutes max, were: handling hardship, betrayal and bad luck and yet have the faith to persevere, and to forgive and forget. Obviously a tall order but I think I got it right. I practiced it a gazillion times, parked my ego at the door on the day of, and gave the talk in a way that God would be glorified. I walked out and got into the car and left. I did not return until Homecoming.

The whole thing was really sad, however. Forty great years of living out my dream and doing 39 of those years in Jesus’ name. It was a great ride and I knew that I was walking away from something – the classroom and the students – that often was the best part of my day. Still, I knew it had to happen. I was not the same man I was when younger and I needed to be sure those students were getting what they paid for. Stepping aside and out seemed to make sense.

Teaching was my life. But it was not my entire life. I led with my heart, and that is probably one of the reasons I was so tired at the end. Emotion can suck the energy right out of you. I loved it so much…teaching…being with students…preparing…studying…commiserating with colleagues. Not all of it was good but I will leave that part out. To tell you the truth, I have forgotten about most of that.

For the longest time I was a fan of the writing of Ernest Hemingway. I was fascinated by his life and read all the biographies, as well as the critical surveys of his work, including the works of his fellow “lost generation” peers like John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and so on. I accumulated 200 volumes in my personal library and read them at my leisure over the years.

To Hemingway, writing was his life. He worked at it as hard as he could. The façade he presented to the world was quite different from the serious man who worked hard at writing one sentence at a time. He lived a short but active life that ended in suicide at the age of 61. This event caused interest in him to increase and soon we discovered he was a sick man dealing with a variety of ills. All of this resulted in the loss of his writing ability. This was more than he could take and he ended it all. Since he could not write any more what was the point in living?

Teaching was my life but I did it in Jesus’ name. Therefore, Jesus is my life. I could have been a plumber or a used car salesman, but as long as I did those things in Jesus’ name, He would be my life, not my vocation, not my loved ones, not anything. Jesus is my life. My life is hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3).

So, if I taught in Jesus’ name than I am also retired in Jesus’ name. This is “our” time now. It is a quiet time together, He and I, working together through His teachings and precepts and reflecting on how my life, even now, is a learning tree that continues to fascinate me to the point that often I don’t sleep but for the right reasons.

Jesus is my life because it says in John 8:31,32 that if I continue in His word, I will be a disciple of His, and I will know the truth and the truth will make me free. I am free. I could have a horrible day teaching (been there done that) and walk out feeling really bad, but somewhere within me there I was with Jesus. I have never had a horrible day with Jesus. Never. I could so some pretty dumb things and hurt myself and others and feel really bad about that. However, those emotions will pass. I could never feel bad about anything that involves me and My Lord other than the sadness of knowing that He had to endure The Cross in order for me to have a relationship with God through Him. He loves me unconditionally. That is the truth that sets me free: His love.

It is up to me to actively claim that love and make it a part of me. First, I need to understand my position in Jesus. If I am in Jesus positionally, I clearly am in the kingdom. I am never alone. I am in Him with the entire kingdom. Knowing this has kept me away from loneliness for a long time now, and being lonely was my M.O. for just about my entire life. Lonely and insecure. I worked hard to hide it but now all of that is gone because of my being in Jesus.

Second, I need to claim the love of God by understanding my personage in Christ. I need to accept that I (1) am a saint; (2) an ambassador for Him; (3) His workmanship to bear the fruit of good works; (4) a light in the world; and (5) flavoring, preserving and healing salt. Wow…what a mix! There is no reason why I would ever feel inferior and know these truths at the same time.

There is one more truth I need to claim and we need to look at that a bit. I refer to my possessions in Christ. Even before I was born, God blessed me spiritually (Ephesians 1:3). In addition, He gave me an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:17). He deeded to me something as if it was part of a will. In order to execute the will, someone must die. That someone is Jesus. Who is the executor of the will? The Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, I am at peace with God because of Jesus (Romans 5:1-2). Can you imagine that? Peace with God, the Almighty who created the heavens and the earth! Me. Just a guy who is not special or extraordinary and yet who, in the entire milieu of a life that has marched through His creation from day one till now, and I have peace with God through Jesus and I did nothing to earn that.

There is more. He has granted to me His precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Please see this. These are not just promises, but these are precious promises. Precious means: extra-large, magnificent. One of these promises is that I can have victory over sin by being a partaker of the divine nature: not to be sinless, but to sin less.

I am a partaker of His grace because I am in Jesus (Ephesians 1:6). We don’t take grace for granted, but often we fail to see the extent of it. Very often I view His Word as grace. It is so full of His riches, so honest and so true and so helpful. Often just saying His words bring comfort and peace. Grace is more than amazing…it is precious.

And most importantly, I have fellowship with God through Jesus (1 John 1:3). I visualize this fellowship as the two of us walking side by side. He is the leader and is moving more purposefully than I am. He is sharing and teaching but He is also listening. It is a path we share and yet I know whose path it really is. It is His path. He is not my co-pilot. He is my friend and redeemer and I can love Him and come to Him like a child and know He loves me and I feel His reassuring touch.

These truths are operative and real and take away any sense of inadequacy on my part.

None of this has anything to do with religion. There is no freedom in religion. None. This is not going to make us good holy persons walking around with halos over our heads. It has everything to do with relationship. It is relational knowledge – truth – that makes sense if it involves three of us – actually four: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and yours truly, all of me…the good, the bad and the ugly.

And God loves all three parts.

He always did; and He always will.

My name is Micheal the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

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The Truth Shall Make You Free, part 7

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

When I was growing up I wanted to be a baseball player. I loved baseball. Unfortunately I learned through experience I was not athletically inclined. Other options that came into mind were to be a disc jockey, or a musician or a teacher, or a priest. That’s right: a priest. I really thought through that. I was born and raised Catholic and, with all due respect to my Catholic brothers and sisters, I thought becoming a priest would guarantee my entrance into heaven. These thoughts came about during the time of my life when I was convinced I was going to hell if I died. That conviction held from age 12 to 22 when I accepted Christ as Savior.

By the time I was 20 I had thought perhaps I could be a teacher. It looked like an interesting life because of studying about knowledge and sharing that. I enjoyed studying and learning and sharing and was optimistic about that vocation. I went to graduate school to start work on a Master’s degree. I was financing this venture with a teaching assistantship.

I came into those classes with one thought in mind: I was the teacher and they were the student. I was the most important person in the room. I had to be strict and hard. Trouble was I hated being strict and hard. Somehow I thought that is the way teachers I had were and so I was going to just imitate them. I remember with pride finding my name written on the bathroom wall – and it was used in a very derogatory manner.

I hated the whole thing. I hated being a teacher and was lost because I had no options other than to quit and go into the military. It was not a good time. I came home that summer and came to know Jesus as Savior and when I returned that second year my teaching life was set. And so was my attitude. My students were the most important people in the room, not me. I did not just pass knowledge on to them, we worked on that together. I saw them as I saw myself: a child of God who deserved my love, affection, respect and hard work in preparation to be a good and loving teacher. Not only did I find the Truth, I had found a life.

One thing about teaching is all the knowledge you need to deal with and think through. I was in school for ten years, completing the Ph.D. I learned about working with knowledge by thinking critically about it. The classes I took in my PH.D. work involved a lot of writing and very little testing on knowledge.

When I started my teaching career at the college level I tried to remind the students that it was just not all facts and knowledge…that what was more important was that they were learning how to learn.

Still, that knowledge, as important as it is, is pretty empty. Our cultures have gone through centuries of gathering knowledge and learning from it. This has produced a better life for most people on the globe. Knowledge is king…it makes things that give us pleasure and provides for a more comfortable efficient life. And the circle is not ever broken in how that knowledge is gathered and imparted. We all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors. And together we move forward.

However, it is just like turning stones to bread. We make the mistake of living by bread alone and so we make the same mistake, a serious glaring mistake I believe, by living by knowledge alone. For one thing often that knowledge is used the wrong way. Just look at nuclear fission for example. We did not really give much thought to its benefits until we killed off a few million people in Japan back in 1945. I understand the reason why it had to happen and understand the necessity for it. Can that explanation hold up if heard by one of the survivors of that horror? So, there is a two-edged sword to that knowledge.

The main thing is that it will end someday. I suspect that will happen whenever the events of Revelation 21:1 happen in fact.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1 (NASB).

What is more important is relational knowledge. This is knowledge that we understand through the experience of our relationship with God through Christ. It could involve knowledge as we know it and teach it, but more importantly it is knowledge that we can take with us into the next life. It never ends.

And that takes us back to Scripture that is only understood as we relate to God, who is the Author of that Word.

Hence Scripture is important as the source of real truth. Knowledge on its own is good and we need to understand that and use it properly. That is fine. If we also understand that there is a more important relational knowledge, then we are not living by bread (knowledge) alone, but by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

For all flesh (mankind) is like grass, and all its glory (honor) like [the] flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off. But the Word of the Lord (divine instruction, the Gospel) endures forever. And this Word is the good news which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:24-25 (AMP).

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8 (NASB).

Now, let us proceed to see what the Word is going to teach us about the truth making us free.

Consider these verses:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 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. (Romans 12:1-2 (NASB).

This verse tells me that my life in God is a way of worshiping Him. The only difference is that I am not in church. I am in life. If I worship God in this way I am conforming to Him, and not to the world. What is really good is that I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind. That renewal comes from the experience of Scripture. Through scripture I can prove what the will of God is for my life.

What now follows in the subsequent sections is the real “meat” of Dr. Stanley’s study of John 8:32. It is a practical approach to finding a better life using Scripture as the basis, not some book on philosophy or listening to “Dr, Phil.” And, all of it is relational with Jesus as our guide.

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The Truth Shall Make You Free, part 6

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

So, the truth of John 8:32 is Jesus… the Word. As Christians we spend our entire lives right up to the moment we go to be with Him, living out that truth. The truth is designed to glorify God, not ourselves. The truth corrects us when we are wrong and guides us in our daily living. It takes some effort to study and learn it but eventually we carry it with us and in us and others see it through us. The old adage is so true: “We – our actions as seen through our character which is formed and influenced by the Word – are the only Gospel some people will ever see.”

Regrettably, there is another truth out there as well. It is a system of lies that might appear at first to be generated by non-believers who do not know God, but in fact are propagated by the strong influence of Satan and his fallen angelic host. This has caused a conflict between what is true (Jesus) and what appears to be true but is not (the satanically influenced and energized world system of any time of history).

Jesus has Satan pegged perfectly:

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him? Whenever he speaks a life, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44 (NASB).

And, even though this points out whom Satan really is – a deceiver – not only does he fool the world system he sometimes can fool us too. He can get into our heads and start us down a negative path that, if carried to completion, reduces us to useless rubble. All it takes is a circumstantial negative from a life experience and once he latches on to that and down the rabbithole we will go… being totally deceived that we are sinners not saved, or that we are horrible parents, or that we stink at our job, and on and on. All of it is negative and it can suck the life energy right out of us and render us impotent as witnesses for Christ. Dr. Stanley defined a negative “grid system” formed by life experiences that Satan used against us burdening us with feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and worthlessness. Often we are so buried in the negative that we lose any sense of what our relationship with God can be like.

Where to start?

As Christians we need to know that we are at war. It is a war in the spirit world:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses 2 Corinthians 10:4 (NASB)

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:13-17 (NASB)

I have really tried to get a handle on what it was like for Adam and Eve to have lost so much. You and I are on the other side of that story. None of us lived and walked with God the way they did. The true tragedy for them at the personal level was the memory of what they had lost. They were the only two people in all of history that held that memory.

Consider this: they had only one choice to make, and that related to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They made the wrong choice and the consequence is that today you and I are faced with numerous choices on a daily basis. Still, all these choices really come down to the basic: do we follow God’s wisdom or our own? It is going to be His way or our way? That is how I see it in my own sin life. Which truth am I going to believe? Satan…or Jesus?

When Jesus went into the wilderness and was confronted by Satan, He was coming off a fast that lasted forty days. This was a man who was tired and very hungry. Satan used Scripture to hopefully trick Jesus into making bread from the stones that were at His feet. What did Jesus reply?

But He answered and said,”It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.” Matthew 4:4 (NASB)

Food is important. You need it to live… to be nourished and keep good health. But that is not the important thing. Life is pointless if you base it on just your physical needs. What are more important are our spiritual needs. Life is to be based on “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” – Scripture.

Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 1 Peter 2:2 (NASB).

We are to feed on the Word. It becomes a part of us just as food will become a part of our physical bodies. But the food we eat, once it is utilized and metabolized, becomes a waste that is cast from the body. This is not true for the spiritual food of the Word of God. We take it in and it becomes a part of us and we grow. All of it is assimilated. There is never any waste.

We can simplify our lives by reducing the many choices we face down to just one: which truth are we going to be influenced by, Jesus or Satan? We all know the answer but often we get sloppy in the spiritual war and are influenced by the lie.

How strong is that lie? Just pick up the newspaper and read it for yourself.

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The Truth Shall Make You Free, part 5

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

In the book of Matthew, the story of Jesus proceeds in a simple progression. After we learn about His genealogy, we read the familiar Christmas story. Then in Chapter 3 we read of His ministry going public when He was baptized. Then Satan came at him. That is in chapter 4.

What is most interesting about this confrontation was how these two sparred with each other by quoting Scripture. The problem was that Satan was misquoting and twisting the Word, and each time Jesus would use the Word correctly. This led to Satan’s defeat…for a time.

Satan is a fallen angel. He has great power because God allows this. But he has no prescience at all. He has no idea of what is to happen or when. He was just about as in the dark about Jesus as the people were – in terms of who He really was. But, once Jesus went public Satan came at him, and he lost. Who won? The truth of Scripture won. Jesus won. He is the Word (John 1:1-5). We think of Scripture as the words in the Bibles we have in our homes or see on the bookshelves. While that is true, we need also to understand that when we see the Word we see the mind of Christ…and hence also the mind of God as He permits it.

This is pretty awesome.

What… Who… is the truth that sets us free?

Jesus.

He claimed this Himself.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6 (NASB).

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the Truth hears my voice.” John 18:37 (NASB).

This is exactly the impression I got when I opened up a Bible the night I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. At that moment all I could do was to leaf through the pages and read haphazardly, along with some passages given to me earlier that night when I attended a bible class. Soon, I did start out reading on my own in a systematic way but emphasized three books: Genesis, Matthew and Revelation. I did not always understand what I read. I knew that this reading was special. It was history but a breathing history that let you see the heart of people like Abraham or Noah or Jacob or David or Peter. I saw their heart because I was reading through the eyes of my heart. And that was possible because the original authors wrote from their heart, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I saw that these great Patriarchs were just like me. Often they could be petty, selfish, often too wrapped up in their own egos, and very often flat out disobedient. But I also saw their faith. And I also saw God’s persistence in working with them. He did not give up on them. There is that famous exception in Exodus 32 when God had lost his patience with what at that point were a VERY disobedient people. He said as much to their leader, Moses. He was going to wipe them all out and start over with just him. Moses talked Him out of it. See Exodus 32:1-14. What we see there is an interaction very familiar to all of us and yet it is God…GOD…who is in that interaction. That whole exchange between Moses and God was not possible unless they knew each other relationally.

To continue in the Word is to live it, but one needs to get into it as well. The Sunday school movement among Protestantism in North America was founded on that premise: to take time to emphasize His Word and to learn it. Church meetings were expanded to two hours. Parents saw to it that children were in attendance. These children grew up, and perhaps went off on their own not so in touch with their faith. Yet over time when they had their children they saw to it that they would attend Sunday School. The circle was not broken nor can it ever be.

In addition to bible study, I have also found a great deal of help by reading Christian books. There are many authors who are very bible-based and can really teach you. I could give a long list but that would be redundant. I want to emphasize two writers, however: Francis Schaeffer and John Calvin. I still have my old dog-eared copy of Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality.” In it I learned a very important scriptural truth regarding the Ten Commandments. Actually I learned a great deal about those commandments from John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” He taught how the first four emphasized our relationship with God and the last six emphasized our relationship with each other. This follows exactly with the two “greatest commandments” of Jesus in Matthew 22:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22: 36-40 (NASB)

You can love God and show that by obeying and honoring the first four commandments and you can love your neighbor by obeying and honoring the last six commandments.

But, Schaeffer taught that the Tenth commandment was the hub of the wheel. When we sin, we actually break two commandments. We break the tenth one because there is something we want – covet – that we do not have. We break one or more of the others to get what we want. If there is any way we can deal with sin we need to change our attitudes that get us into trouble first through the tenth commandment. This comes back then, to the truth “It’s not about you.” If we really lived that truth, then the chances are we will not get into trouble with sin.

That is the beauty of Scripture. Yes, it is in our homes but, more so it is in our hearts. We seek help and counsel from Ministers, Lay Leaders, friends, family and fellow Christians. That is all good. But we are blessed because the most important counsel we can enjoy comes from the word of God.

I look at it this way: The word of God is a weapon. It is been described as a sword:

And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17 (NASB).

For the word of God is loving and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NASB).

And you know what one can do with such a weapon? You can use it offensively as well as defensively.

And so, we need to keep these truths in mind as we move to the next installment: The truth that sets us free is Jesus Himself. Jesus is the Word. Hence He is the truth behind that Word. God’s Word is not just history and philosophy. It touches our hearts as well as our minds. Truth becomes real to us when we see it through the experience of our relationship with a person named Jesus.

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The Truth Shall Make You Free, Part 9

Monday, July 28th, 2014

John 8: 31, 32 is a conditional statement. Jesus says if we continue in His word, we will be His disciples. We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. The key words are: “if”, “continue”, “truth”, and “free.”

If we abide in, stay with, live out and proclaim His word through our attitudes and actions, we will know His truth and we will be free.

Freedom is the one thing we all seek. Adam and Eve might have sensed “freedom” when they were told they would be like God and know good and evil. Satan told them a lie (they would be like God) and a truth (they would know good and evil). Their choice brought the curse God stated in Genesis 3. That was a curse on them and on the earth. For you and I, that curse ends at death when we go to be with Jesus. For the earth, the curse continues until the New Jerusalem descends out of God from heaven as described in Revelation 21.

Adam and Eve sought freedom and instead they found bondage. That bondage is what Jesus wants us out of in John 8:31, 32 and He meant that we could be free of that bondage even before we die.

We all live with the two natures of good and evil. Both are in us. We want so much to be good and do well, and often we succeed. And in other times, more often than not, we really take leave of our senses and pursue evil with renewed purpose and assurance, with deliberation, with total cynicism, and all of this leads to the smell of the true nature of sin. Thank God that Jesus died for those sins and that we are saved by the grace of God through Jesus! Without Him it would be hopeless.

The “truth” is the ultimate reality of the grace of God in this life through Jesus. Within that grace are three aspects of that truth. If we claim these truths, life can become much more in tune with His glory and honor. Our reason to live is not out of our own ego, but out of a desire to glorify Him. That is the purpose of our lives: to glorify God.

The first truth is our position in Jesus. We are in Jesus and He is in us. Every day I recite Galatians 2:20 to myself. I was crucified with Christ. It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Jesus who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

The second aspect of his truth is my personage in Jesus. Who am I in Jesus? First of all, I am a saint. I cannot claim this because of my works. That would be a laugh! No. I claim this because the word tells me I am a Saint (1 Corinthians 1:2). Second, I am an Ambassador – an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). What is an ambassador? He/she is a person who represents his government in a foreign country. We represent Jesus in a world that is foreign to Him because that world is ruled by the devil and his angels. How do we live in this situation? By faith in Jesus – faith that He is in us and with us and is our friend. So, we love God and we love our neighbor as ourselves.

Third, I am His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). I am here to do good works. This is how He can influence this world – through our good works. The goal of the good works is that others will see Jesus in us. They should. He is there…in us. Our goal is to claim that and open up our spiritual hearts so that He may be seen. Fourth, I am light (Matthew 5:14-16). My light shines because I am in Jesus. In the New Jerusalem of the future heaven, God will light that place by His presence. We will never know darkness again. But, here light is the antithesis of darkness. Our choice is to be a light on the hill that He may be seen in us.

Lastly, I am salt (Matthew 5:13). What does salt do? It (1) gives flavor; (2) is used as a preservative; and (3) can be used in healing. Think about that. It is not easy to be who we really are, and I suspect those of us in recovery because we probably did not want others to see who we really are. But, we are in Christ, and He is in us. That is the flavor…the spark of flavor we can give to this world. As salt, we can preserve the way of Jesus in the midst of this crazy world – to keep His way being put forth for others to see. And, as salt, we can have a healing influence on others around us.

I want to put all these words together in so far as my personage in Christ is concerned: I am a Saint. I am His Ambassador. I am His workmanship put here to glorify Him by my good works. The light of Jesus in me can shine out to others if I let it. As salt, I can flavor this world by just being me, which is something I am more comfortable with than ever. As salt, my values, which are His values, can help to preserve a better way of doing things in this world. As salt, I can help in the healing process by just loving others and also loving Him. Just the actual act of loving God can be a healing event.

I find these truths to be exciting. They give me hope. And, because they come from His word, they are real.

My name is Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in Recovery.

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The Truth Shall Make You Free, part 4

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

John 8:31 is certainly not the only verse where Jesus speaks to what the character of a disciple of His ought to be. He addresses this character in many parts of the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament “fleshes out” what He taught. Naturally, the character of a Christian is the main “sermon fodder” in our Churches. Much is expected of us. We are saved by the free gift of His grace. We did nothing to earn that grace (Ephesians 2:8,9). But, the next step, which some call sanctification, takes up the rest of our lives.

Jesus tells these new “converts” who believe in Him: “If you continue in My word, then you will be disciples of Mine.” (John 8:31).

I looked up the word “continue” in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Some of you know this book. It is on the Internet, I believe. It basically cross references every verse in the Bible. If you go through all of these links, you might discover how the Bible can comment on itself.

Consider one of these links: the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23). My Ryrie study Bible interprets these four people this way: “There would be four different responses to the Word: no response; emotional response; worldly response and fruitful response.” I think that Matthew 8:20-21 is an example of not continuing in the word. A person hears the word and responds to it with great joy (emotion). But, he has no firm root in himself. Soon he falls away. Maybe that could be some of those Jews who came to believe in Jesus: they responded emotionally and it did not “stick.” Also see Luke 8:13.

To continue in His word is to abide in His word. Jesus describes Himself as the Vine. We, the branches, abide in Him (John 15:5-7). If we are rooted in Jesus, we will know that His love will fill us (Ephesians 3:17-19). Jesus has caused a reconciliation in our relationship with God if we continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast (Colossians 1:22-23).

We are told in Colossians 2:6,7: Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 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 .

In many respects, that verse sums up what is expected of us. Normally we view expectations as “work.” This is true here. Sanctification is hard work. It is never an easy path. One reason is that God intervenes in that path with life lessons. It is almost as if “school” is in session in our lives every day. A day that goes by without having learned something is a wasted day, I believe. God would certainly view this to be true in terms of the learning tree called sanctification.

Sometimes people can hear the word but because that hearing was not united in faith by the hearer, it did not profit them (Hebrews 4:2). Perhaps this might describe some of the people Jesus spoke to in John 8:31.

To continue in His word is to live in it, abide in it, imbibe it, seek it, spend time with it, and to let it become us. I firmly believe that when you open His word, you see yourself. I see myself in Adam, Jacob, David, Jonah, and Peter. That is just for starters. Often when I read His word I wonder how the heck He ever knew that was me he was talking about. Reading His word can be pretty disconcerting at times. It forces you to look at yourself.

So, we need to continue in His word, and if we do, we will become disciples of His, and we will know the truth and the truth will make us free.

So, what is this “truth that will make us free.” This is pretty much going to be the “meat” of what Dr. Stanley taught in that sermon set I mentioned.

But, before I do that, I want to explore, in the fifth installment, my own impressions of His Word — Scripture.

I am Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

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Truth Shall Set You Free _ Part 3:

Monday, July 21st, 2014

In the second installment, I testified how God’s Word – His Truth – set me on the road to freedom…not just freedom from alcohol, but also freedom to become the man God wants me to be.

Presumably the story could have ended there. After all, I had hit rock bottom, knew despair and loneliness, hated the person I really was, and all of this ended by the intervention of my Lord Jesus. Not only did He intervene but He showed me truth in His word, and that truth set me free.

End of story. Let the violins swell up to a crescendo while you see me disappearing into a beautiful landscape of life wonderful.

No. The story begins there. That landscape is beautiful at times, but a lot of the times it is a rocky difficult terrain and it has almost sucked me dry while I navigate through it. These have been some good 12 sober years, but at the same time, they have sometimes been downright awful. Why? I did not always continue in His word. Often I would ignore His word and would go my own way, and when I did boy was it terrible. I also think that I was not discerning enough to see that in some of that rocky terrain maybe God was trying to teach me something. If so, then I flunked the class. So, these 12 years have been “up and down.”

Look at these versions of John 8:31,32:

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who claimed to believe in Him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” (The Message)

So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, if you abide in My word [hold fast to My Teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free (The Amplified Bible).

Jesus said to them, ‘You are truly my disciples if you live as I tell you to and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (The Living Bible).

What is happening here? First, as many of you know, the gospel of John is different from the other three in that it emphasizes more of what Jesus says as compared to what Jesus does. In Chapter Eight all we know is that He is at the Temple talking with those have followed along with Him. These public discourses dominate John’s gospel up through chapter 12. From then on, His statements are to a smaller audience, mainly the Twelve and other followers.

So, the words in John 8:31,32 were for public consumption at a place revered by the Jews: the Temple. Jesus, being a good Jew, worshiped there. He also taught there. Apparently He was confronted with opposition to His teaching. But, when He spoke the words you see in John 8:28,29 many apparently came to believe in Him.

So, what does He do? He speaks directly to those people who came to believe in Him: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Isn’t that impressive? Those who came to believe in Him got His attention and He spoke to them. I still think that is true today. In my early days as a Christian, He was there with me, teaching me through His Word, and through the lives of other Christians. This immediate attention often will separate the wheat from the chaff. In John 8:31 He lays out for them what the character of a true disciple of His ought to be: to continue in His word.

Unfortunately, not all of those who “came to believe in Him” actually did so. Perhaps some of them had an emotional reaction that did not last. You can see that in their reactions and statements from verse 33 on. The exchange of words between these people and Jesus get pretty confrontational. Chapter Eight ends with the people trying to stone Him! But, He hides and eventually gets away and out of the Temple.

What does it mean to continue in His word? Here are some possible meanings from Webster: “to maintain without interruption a condition, course or action.” To continue is to endure, stay, keep up, prolong, last, abide, and persist. One word that works is: abide. I like the way Matthew Henry put it:

“It is to dwell in Christ’s word, as a man does at home, which is his center, and rest, and refuge.”

I like that. As I write this, I am safe inside my home while an ice storm is raging outside. I hear the clicking of the sleet against the screens of my windows. Yet here I am in my home, my center, my refuge, safe, warm, and secure. That is what it is like to abide in His word.

Next time I want to take one more look at John 8:31.

My name is Michael the Penguin, and I am a Christian in recovery.

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The Truth Shall Set You Free, Part 2

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

We all want to be free. The desire to be free is part of our make-up, and that means God/ gave us that desire. In my case, I want to be free to be the man God wants me to be. I have always wanted that. Wanting and achieving are two different things, however.

I have fears. These fears weigh me down. What caused them? I have ideas, theories, and sometimes even valid reasons why these fears exist. But, what matters is how I have handled these fears. Some people grow out of them. I didn’t. I took them with me into adulthood. And, in doing that I thought maybe I could use them in my favor. The best thing to do was to plan, anticipate, scheme, and prepare. The overall plan for the day was to control, control, control. That took a lot of thought. In the process I became an insomniac.

And, over time, I became an alcoholic.

Why? Because as life happened, it got more complex and there were too many loose ends. The pain of seeing these dangling ends was too much. Alcohol took care of that and, in an odd way, it helped. I could sit up at night and plan, anticipate, scheme, and prepare and be energized by the alcohol.

Eventually all of this came to a head: my world imploded, and my biology crashed. Suddenly there I was totally alone being a person I hated.

Trouble was, I really was that person.

So, what was I to do? In fact, I did not do anything. It was Jesus who did something. He confronted me. He got into my face. He tried a variety of ways to intervene which I, of course, either could not see or perhaps was too self-absorbed to see.

When you hit bottom, you are so alone. All of you who read this know that. I had failed myself and others, and others had failed me. I was desperately alone. I was so alone I was physically ill.

There I sat ill, on a glorious sunny Saturday, 21 October, 1994, in the midst of beautiful Colonial Williamsburg, surrounded by happy tourists, and there I was, slowly dying inside. That was when He spoke. There was no audible sound. He spoke in my spirit: “Michael, the reason you are in bad health is because of your drinking. Once you stop the drinking, your health will improve and everything will be all right.”

Jesus was using the word “health” in two ways. The first applied to the disease of alcoholism. The second applied to the deeper spiritual disease or malaise which I knew would force me to address long hidden issues out of my entire life. Frankly, it was the second disease that I feared the most.

So, where did I need to start?

I started through His Word. Scripture. Later that day, as I was sinking into withdrawal (I had not had any alcohol in 12 hours )I asked Him how. — How was I ever going to stop drinking? And, on top of that, what was I to do with myself once I stopped? Horrible fear overtook me — the fear that I would be so exposed and helpless for all to see with no place to hide, being a person even I did not like. It was terrible. I saw no way out.

He gave me two verses: Proverbs 3:5 and Philippians 4:13. I took out the Gideon bible in our motel room and found them:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13).

Suddenly the fear was gone. Thea “edge” of alcoholic withdrawal was taken away, and I felt human, real — and I even felt safe in the knowledge that I was there, in Him, and comfortable being who I really was. I claim this as a divine intervention in my life, and in many respects, the next day, 22 October, was really the first day of the rest of my life: a life that had to be grounded in God, not in my fears and need for control.

So, it was His Word that was put me on the road to freedom. I am not there yet. I was not instantly healed. I will be seeking good health in both of these areas for the rest of my life. Probably I will never quite get to the end of the road, but by then I will be in His arms and then it will be glorious.

Until then, I have His Word, and I want to continue in His Word in order to know truth and through that truth, have freedom.

In the next installment, I want to give some thought to the word “continue” as Jesus used that word.

My name is Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

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The Truth Shall Set You Free, part 1

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

My name is Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

I would like to think out loud with the rest of you for a while. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is John 8:32. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It seems, at first, to be a “no-brainer” in terms of interpretation:
(1) It is Jesus talking;
(2) He is the truth; and
(3) we can find freedom in life through Him.

The application to anyone in recovery is also obvious: in recovery we want to be free of our addictions, but we know we need to find a deeper freedom in order to achieve that. It is one thing to stop drinking, drugging, etc., but it is another thing to remain free and also have a life centered in God. The Steps are the tried and true way of helping any of us to find the freedom to be the person God wants us to be. For us as Christians, Scripture is a big part of those Steps. To me, Scripture is just about the one tried and true source of revelation from God. I can state categorically that Scripture is why I have remained sober for 12 years: the study, absorption and application of God’s truths for me.

You can find John 8:32 in a lot of secular situations. I have seen it on the front entrance to the Library where I did my Ph.D. work. I have seen it on certain places as a memorable quote. After all, truth and freedom are very universal attributes sought by all since the beginning of time. And, Christians view truth very different from other groups or faiths.
What I was not overly aware of was John 8:31. I want to quote it and include John 8:32.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

The key word is “if.” Although I am a student of Scripture, I don’t pretend to know it all. I just cannot recall very many conditional statements in the New Testament. That “If then” phrase is very common in the Old Testament. We tend to generalize that the Old Testament is “conditional” while the New Testament is “unconditional.” While I am sure these broad generalizations are true, I pause when I see the conditional statement in John 8:31-32. There is a lot to consider in the words “continue” – “disciple” “know” “truth” “free”, etc.

I want to pursue this and I would like you, the reader, to come with me.  This study is based on a set of sermons I heard from Dr. Charles Stanley back in the 80’s. There were ten sermons. I heard some of them while they were being presented on television, and bought the tape set and worked through a response study that came out of his ministry. Then, about ten years later I went through a crisis and used this study to help me get through it. I listened to the sermons again. I put together a 13 page outline-based study for my own use and it is in my files now as an article called “Truth for Me” And now, about ten years after that, I am going to do this study again since I am once again going through a crisis. I suspect I will eventually get into all of that personal stuff, but for now I suspect I had better just leave that out.

As Christians we know we have freedom. That freedom comes from the grace of God through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. That is a given and a factual assurance. We are truly free. But, very often we just don’t live that way, and one of the reasons we don’t live that way is that we get wrapped up in our stuff and forget about our Christian walk. That has happened to me a lot of times. You are familiar with one of the important themes of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life:  “It’s not about me.” Well, too often I have thought it was about me and this has caused me problems that have really burdened me over the years. Jesus has been with me on all of this, thankfully, but dear reader know this: you can find forgiveness for your actions and sins, but you still live with consequences. David was forgiven by God but there were many unfortunate events that proceeded after his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband Uriah.

And so, my purpose here is to go back to the basics and realize that freedom in God one more time. I hope you will come along with me.

In Him
Michael the Penguin

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