When you think of addictions, what do you think of?

Alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, video games, sugar, food, social power come to my mind.

But what about addiction to self?

We all have it.  All of us want to be #1.  We are infatuated with ourselves.

Watch an NFL player score the winning touchdown.  Or listen in on a phone conversation. Or babysit a toddler.

Most of the time, what we do is totally for us.  The other part of the time, we’re able to convince people it isn’t about us when it really is.

For years, I thought the answer to my problems was through a study of myself.

That’s a good way to go crazy.

I filled out personality tests, visited with counselors, talked for hours and hours about myself to anyone who would tolerate it, and even took the Rorschach inkblot test.  What I learned the hard way was there wasn’t anything hidden about myself that I wanted revealed.  There wasn’t anything secretive that I wanted published.  It was all a deep, dark hole of sin.

Miss Piggy is definitely my least favorite Muppet, but she does make a great illustration of who we ourselves are.

Miss Piggy is this overly makeuped pig who’s spent all this money on fancy clothes for herself.  Everything is about her, and if it’s not, there’s wrath to come.  What she wants to say, she says.  What she wants to do, she does.  She’s this clunky, obnoxious, self-engrossed pestilence that the other Muppets have to put up with.

She can get away with it because she’s a puppet, and we can turn the program off of our TV anytime we want.  We don’t have to watch Miss Piggy 24/7.  So we can kinda laugh about it (some of us anyway, she mostly annoys me).

But we cannot get away from ourselves.  And in all of us lives all manner of ungodly affection towards ourselves.  It’s as if all the glory we were supposed to give God, when we broke alliance with Him, has been turned inward.  We worship ourselves.  All of us do it.  We just don’t usually recognize the self-piggy that lives inside us, because we’re used to him or her.  We’ve lived with that self-piggy as long as we’ve been a self, and we don’t know any different.

And the self-piggy can be very, very crafty.  I used to watch reality TV a lot.  There would always be at least somebody who could have competed with Miss Piggy for the most obnoxious, self-absorbed megalomaniac alive.

But . . why did I watch that?

Wasn’t it so that I could feel better about myself, by picking apart the personality flaws of someone else?  Wasn’t I, actually, being a worse self-piggy, because I was watching someone else’s pig out of infatuation with myself (in other words, to make myself look and feel better)?

Pigs are incredibly tactless in what they will eat.  Give them something, and they will eat it.  Slop, garbage, even other pigs.  They will eat anything and absolutely everything without reverence.  In the same way, our self-piggy will gobble anything and everything that stands in its path to self-fame, self-abundance, self-promotion, and self-worth.  And in our society, there are plenty of highly educated doctors who say that we’re not at fault for this; and they treat it by giving us more of ourselves.

Jesus astonishes (and often) offends us in what He said one day,

As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62, HCSB)

Jesus gets a lot of flack for what He said here, because we revolt against anyone who would slay the idolatrous pig of self inside us for the cause of the real worship of God.

Jesus was walking to Jerusalem (see verse 51).  He knew these were the last days His sandaled feet would walk the dusty villages of Israel and Samaria before He walked the road to Golgotha with a cross on His back.  In the greatest moment of self-sacrifice ever in the history of mankind, Jesus was walking towards His cross.

Along the way, followers, maybe flirting with holiness, or thinking it might improve their image, or wanting to make themselves look good before God, or wishing for fire insurance for the life to come, or for whatever other self-duplicitous reason, approach Him.  They probably think they are about to look really good.  They might even think they have all the self-sacrifice they need.  After all, aren’t they offering to follow Jesus?

The first one comes out with a wow statement, perhaps to make himself look like the most devoted follower Jesus has ever had?  Maybe he can’t wait for the prize.  What will Jesus say when this man spiels his mighty ditty?  Maybe he thinks that Jesus will nearly worship him out of admiration for his devotion.

“I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Had he practiced this, rehearsed it along the way?  Or did he shout it in a sudden adrenaline-boosting feeling of posturing?  Did he think he meant it?  Probably.  That’s the way it is with self-piggy.  We think we mean things because we ourselves are fooled into believing what the puppet inside us says to us.  We hear our own words and we think they are true.

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Jesus showed the man exactly where his allegiance lie.  Maybe the self-pig inside this man was hungry for comfort or security or assurance; whatever it was, I think Jesus took it away.

The second man wasn’t actually wanting to join Jesus, or at least he didn’t say he was.  He was busy doing something we’d nearly all of us respect.  He was preparing funeral arrangement for his father.  We maybe want to say (in the blasphemous god of our self-pig), “Don’t interrupt him, Jesus!”  We want to offer this man the best psychology can offer, and maybe an anti-depressant to help.  We certainly want to hear Jesus say things like, “I’m here for you” or “Don’t worry about following me now–come when you’re ready.”

Jesus interrupts this man’s plans and speaks directly to him.  Jesus didn’t call just everyone.  Some He called and some He drew and some He let find Him.  But this man, Jesus specifically talked to, and at such a ‘bad time’.

Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

What?  Jesus says what? 

Where is the sympathy our self-pity is so fond of hearing?  Where is the sympathy that draws the eye of everyone to feed our self-hunger?  Where is the sympathy that plays the violin of self-entitlement before us?  It isn’t here.

Jesus was choosing to die for the news of the kingdom of God.  The least this man could do was leave a dead man behind.  Jesus revealed this man’s self-pig.  Maybe it was worship for his family, or maybe in being the important, in-charge one who made the funeral arrangements, or maybe in being the one who always did what was right in society’s eyes, or maybe he had cold feet about helping Jesus and he was more comfortable staying at home.  We don’t know.  But whatever his self-pig was, I think Jesus exposed it.  And the man had only two options: face his ugly pig and give up what he thought he should do, or do what he wanted and squeal in anger & disappointment at Jesus.

The third man sounds like a great guy.  Maybe he thought he was, too.  Maybe he was a real family man, true-blue to those he loved.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t, of course, leave his family without a proper goodbye.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t just vanish on them one day (as if they wouldn’t hear about where he’d gone).  Maybe he thought he had to do things the proper way, the appropriate way.  Maybe he was willing to follow Jesus, but first he needed or he craved for his goodbye.  Maybe he was hoping all his friends and family would admire him for his ‘brave obedience to God’.  Or maybe he was just using the goodbye excuse as a cop-out to not really follow at all.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It didn’t work the way the man had planned.  Whatever his self-piggy was, whether it was family, or looking important in relationships, or popularity, or looking brave, or affirmation, Jesus confronted his self-piggy and he was left without an excuse.

All of these men were left to face their self-piggies or throw their anger for the exposure back at Jesus.  We don’t know what they chose.

But we do know what Jesus chose.  He chose to keep walking.  With every footprint His sandals left in the dust, He was one step closer to the footprints that would leave behind a trail of blood.  Earlier, verse 51 of the same chapter tells us,

When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Verse 53b restates,

He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

And this after a self-pig squabble among His disciples about who mattered most among them, who was the coolest, who was the supreme follower, who was getting the biggest reward, who would have the best future.  Verse 46 of the same chapter tells us,

Then an argument started among them about who would be the greatest of them.

Please read Luke 9 for yourself.  There is a very real theme of the self-pig of the disciples, followers of Jesus, and others . . contrasted with the total unselfishness of Jesus, time and time again.

We, like the disciples and followers and everyone who has ever lived on this earth except Jesus have a self-pig inside us.  A pig that will consume every good thing in our lives if we let it go unmuzzled.  A pig that will destroy us.  A pig that we cannot control.

But we can surrender our pig to God to slay.  Only Jesus can destroy the selfishness within us.  He can do this because He lived without selfishness and yet He took on every consequence for our selfishness on that walk to Golgotha.  Golgotha means Skull Place (see Mark 15:22), and there, as He was being put to death by our sin, He was putting to death our sin.

If we want to live with the skeleton of self-pig left inside us, we can.  But we can leave it right there in Golgotha, at the foot of the cross, if we choose.  Christ has slain our sin nature; the decision in ours as to whether we’ll pick it up again.

He gives us this decision because He is totally unselfish.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, HCSB)

Unlikely Debtor

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)

Paul, one of the greatest missionaries of all time, saw himself as a debtor to the people he was serving . . and not just to Presidents and kings, morally upstanding people and law-abiding citizens . .

but also to Greeks and to foreigners, which can be compared as to the civilized and to the savage (GWT of this phrase).  The two groups would probably have been viewed in that day as just that: civilized and savaged.  In other words, Paul felt a debt to preach to people who both did and who didn’t know much of anything about God’s ways.  A lot of us seem to be one or the other: we either want to witness to those who have a foundation of morality and poise that resembles what we like, or we want to witness to those who are totally different from us.  Paul wanted to reach both.

Would Paul have felt himself a debtor to the women who work in the strip bars in my town?  How about to the men who, through their money, put them there?

Would he have gone door-to-door to the poorest of the poor in my town, and searched the streets for the lonely homeless he could help?  How about to the welfare-fleecers in my town?  Would he have shared the Good News with them?

Would he have visited the VA clinic?  How about the anti-war society?  Would he have even gone to the houses of those who, in the 70’s, spit on the soldiers coming back from the Vietnam war?

Would he have stopped by as many nursing homes as he could?  What about the elderly who, in their youth, beat their wives and children?  Would we have preached to them, too?

Would he would have made a special stop at the local jail?  Would he have witnessed to the drunk driver?  What about our local Federal prison?  Would his sandaled feet have stopped even in front of the cells of rapists and demented serial killers?

Would he have visited our mayor and prayed for him?  What about the politician accused or convicted of embezzlement.  Would he have paid even him a visit?

Would he have knocked on the doors of the local millionaires?  What about the doors of those who have never shared a penny with the poor, who would rather have every luxury in the world than give a crust of bread to a starving child?  Would he even have shared the Gospel with them?

Paul saw himself as a debtor.

No one was beneath him.  (See Colossians 3:11)

And no one was above him.  (See Galatians 2:6)

He would preach to the rich and poor, heroes and villains alike.  He would be gracious and respectful if he got a hearing with the President, but he would not regard him as a more precious human life or more worthy of a hearing of the Gospel than James Holmes.

Am I saying that to be sensational?  Is that really true?  Could anyone really see themselves as a debtor to share the Gospel with a man like James Holmes?

I think we forget, all too often, that Paul really was a murderer before his conversion.  In one portrayal I saw, it was suggested that he tortured Christians in the synagogue when he caught them.  While we don’t know this to be true, it is likely that he flogged Christians–the graphicness of which is lost many times to our modern day ears.

The prisons he was throwing Christians into were not like U.S. prisons.  They were terrible, awful places where you might not be fed, there was no legal restraint against your mistreatment (unless you were a Roman citizen, which few Christians in Israel would have been), and you could be freezing cold at night with not so much as a cloak provided.  If Christian brothers and sisters came to help you, they might have been thrown in prison, too.

Paul had, in his old life, believed he was better than almost everyone (see Philippians 3:6).  In his new life, he believed he was better than absolutely no one.  He wanted everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  As he was thrown in prisons throughout his ministry, I don’t believe he used his time there only to write letters to the churches.  I believe he was also witnessing to all prisoners within earshot, if he was allowed to talk to them.

As modern day Christians, we devalue the debt Jesus paid for us, and thus we skimp on our allegiance to Him.  While most of us readily embrace analogies of Jesus as our Father and Brother and even King, few of us actually want to identify as His servant, bond-servant, or slave.  But all these metaphors hold true.  I think when we think “king” we have a picture of Him sitting on the throne blessing us and judging nonbelievers.  I think we miss the picture of a king that would have been readily seen in Jesus’ day: that of someone with total power, pledged total allegiance and given total obedience.

We are not only free.  As believers, we are free from the power of sin.  There’s no doubt about that.  But we are also captured by the grace of God.

We are slaves to the mercy of God, debtors to His love.  This slavery is nothing like the unjust slavery of U.S. 18th and 19th century history.  And this debt is nothing like the debt owed a loan shark.

Instead, we are in debt to the most gracious God of all, forever enslaved to be servants of His mercy.

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” (God, quoted in Hosea 11:4, NIV)

Our debt is no longer one of sin, but of worship.  We owe a debt of worship to Him that we cannot pay.

Worship of God is not only singing to Him or listening to sermons, though it is that.  Worship of God is also looking at the world–His world, ruined by sin–and reaching every soul we can for Him.  We should long for more worshipers in Heaven, and more vacancies in Hell.  We should long to bring anyone and everyone to Him, and since He longs for this more than we can imagine; we are debtors to the people around us.

To those who are wise and those who are fools.  To those who are humble & broken and those who are arrogant & loud-mouthed.  To those with etiquette and popularity and those with annoying habits and isolation.  To those with public approval and those who are social pariahs.  To those who live seemingly morally inspiring lives and those who live lives worthy of the darkest human pits in Hell.

We are debtors to them, all of them, because this is how God wants it.

As believers, our role in this life is, absolutely, How can I serve _____?

Fill in the name of anyone you have ever met.

This doesn’t mean serving them in an enabling sense, but serving them in the sense God desires, that is debtors to bring the Good News of Christ Jesus to the world.

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)


This blog owes a debt of love to all Christians who have helped my thinking in this area, especially the short movie Unbreakable, the influence of Christian missionaries, and, personally, my Sunday school teacher Kevin, Pastor Tommy, and Pastor John, whose thinking and ideas shaped much of this.  Most of all, my debt of love is to Jesus Christ, who is the Person who paid my eternal debt of sin . . who is the Person who gave me understanding of what Love really is.

Reciprocal help by faith

“What I mean is that both you and I will be helped at the same time, you by my faith and I by yours.” (Romans 1:12, GWT)

I wouldn’t be surprised if I wrote something like this, because my faith still needs a lot of work. But PAUL? Paul wrote that he would be “helped” by the faith of the new believers in a starter church he had never yet visited.

What’s the power here; what’s the implication?

If new believers with a lot of confusion could still help Paul’s faith, every Christian has hope to help every other Christian. There can be no caste system among God’s people. New believers can encourage even mighty pastors, even as they encourage the new believers!

No matter how new or small our faith, through Christ we have the ability to encourage every other believer in the world, should we come in contact with them.

So the question is, “Whose faith will I get to build up today?” No Christian is out of my reach. An encouraging thought for the morning!

“What I mean is that both you and I will be helped at the same time, you by my faith and I by yours.” (Romans 1:12, GWT)

I cannot forget this pastor.

1 Corinthians 13:3, Part 2

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV)

In the first part of this little reflection of 1 Corinthians 13:3, I really talked about one side of the coin: Giving of yourself without love is not what God desires.

In the second part, I want to talk about the other side of the coin: Loving without giving of yourself is not what God desires, either.

I think there is an easy “slide” that goes something like this: God doesn’t even count all that money AND TIME people give to the poor when they have bad motives . . Just look at Jenny Sue.  She’s always helping out at the soup kitchen just to make herself look sweet.  Well, I’m no hypocrite.  I’m just not going to give my money or time to the poor.  I’ll just love God from my heart, and I’ll be real about it.

Hold on.  God wants us to give of ourselves only with love.  But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want us to give of ourselves.

That logic doesn’t work.  What if I said, “I don’t want to you to bring home groceries if it’s going to be junk food.”  Does that mean I don’t want you to bring home groceries?

Have you ever had somebody help you in a way that wasn’t helpful, but when you suggest a way that is helpful, they get offended and don’t want to help anymore?  What they don’t understand is that they weren’t helping in the first place and they could really have been helpful if they’d listened!

1 Corinthians 13:3 is not giving you an excuse to withdraw from missions or withhold contributions.  Instead, the focus is on doing everything for God for the right reason, which is love.

If God calls me to give all my money to the poor, or go serve Him in a rural village without electricity, I can’t choose to disobey Him because I don’t love.  Instead, I am commanded to obey Him in love.  Obedience and love go hand in hand when it’s God we’re talking about.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34, NIV)

Jesus isn’t asking us to think about loving.  He’s commanding us, who are believers, to love.  And we can have confidence we can obey Him because He has given us new hearts.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26, HCSB)

Early on, I told Ben how special cards are to me, especially store-bought cards, especially if they have a Hallmark symbol on them.  😉  I grew up watching Hallmark movies with the Hallmark commercials in between movie scenes.  I often loved the commercials as much as the movies!  My little girl heart was wooed by the little boy who placed dinosaur stickers on a card for his mother and drew a Hallmark symbol on the back.  (That was probably my favorite commercial of Hallmark’s, but I could happily own DVD’s of the commercials.)

Anyway, Ben came from, well, an opposite point of view.  That holidays had been commercialized by greeting card companies to say cheap, trite sentiments and make wallets lighter.  (Apparently he hadn’t watched the commercial with the little boy and the dinosaur stickers.)

He expressed his opinion to me and I was quite a lot of unhappy about it.  First, since I had been 7 years old or so and watched my first Hallmark movie, the commercials had begun prepping me for that a knight in shining armor who was going to buy me Hallmark cards someday.

Hallmark didn’t need to target commercials to boys like Ben.  Why?  Because, one day, Hallmark-grouching boys like Ben may fall in love with Hallmark-dreamy girls like me and then they’ll be the ones in the Hallmark store, shelling out the dollars.  🙂

And that is just what happened.  (Well, Ben does usually buy me other brands of cards, but we’re working up to the Hallmarks.  Baby steps. 😉 )

Ben realized that greeting cards need no translation into my love language.

In my head are dreams of envelopes with a gold seal.  I will open the envelope without tearing it, and inside will be a beautiful, big Hallmark card.  (I will know because, like everyone in the commercials, I will turn it over and check the back.)  And then something really romantic will happen.  Swans will sing.  Or fireworks will start.  Or we’ll be standing next to a water fountain.  Or we’ll be on an ice skating rink even though I can’t skate and will probably twist my ankle.  Or we’ll be in a forest with autumn leaves.  Or we’ll be on a rocky ocean bank with seagulls in the background.  Or maybe it’ll be over a candlelight dinner at Christmas time.

So I will open that envelope, and inside will be that Hallmark card, and then we’ll get married (we’ll have to, because he got me a Hallmark card).  😀

Today I opened one of the cards I have unopened still from the mailbox.  It had flowers, and cursive words on the front.  That was a real good sign.  The edge was even scalloped.  And there was a long, handwritten message on the inside.  And the card had my name above the little poem on the inside, and his name below.  It wasn’t a Hallmark, but it did cost $3.89, so I felt really good about it.  🙂

Now why did he go and buy a commercialized greeting card for me?  He, who was once the anti-card-industry spokesperson?  😉  I’ll tell you why.  Because he loves me!

You know, when we love God, we do things we might not do on our own.  We might give money that’s hard to give, to somebody who needs it more than we do.  We might quit our job and move to a village that has never heard the Good News of Christ.

I would never have wanted a card from Ben if he’d tossed it at me and said, “I hate these, but here you go.”  In the same way, God doesn’t want gifts of money or service that are given grudgingly or egotistically.  God wants us to give out of love.  Otherwise, the gift is as empty as a card would be from Ben if he’d grabbed the first one off the shelf, signed it fast, and jammed in an envelope.

God doesn’t want only our allegiance.  He wants our devotion.

The point of 1 Corinthians 13:3 isn’t that we don’t give.  The point of this verse is that we give from love.

I love my card, Ben.

And God loves when we give out of love for Him.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:3

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV)

This is a hard verse for me.

So many times, my mind has skated by it like a speed skater, breezing by this verse. Over top the ice of a cold heart, I’ve thought mindless thoughts like, Ah yes, love; the love chapter; isn’t love nice? . . never really looking at what God’s Word is saying.

If I had skidded to a stop, ice flecks bursting from my skates, and taken a look at the rose of 1 Corinthians 13:3, I would have realized an immediate,




This verse dismantles nearly every trophy I hold on the shelf of Christian living.

Giving to the poor?  Giving my body to hardship??  NOTHING?!?


I’m actually a bit outraged.

Do You mean, God, that I can give my paycheck to poor children around the world . . eat pork and beans the rest of my life . . witness with a megaphone outside sports stadiums and have hamburgers and hot dogs thrown at me . . stand outside abortion clinics to pray and get screamed at . . drive a rickety old car for 20 years . . fund the education of a hundred children . . give my retirement savings to missionaries . . adopt an orphan . . go to a village without plumbing or electricity and spend the rest of my years there . . skip desserts to feed the homeless . . raise money for a new hospital in a developing country . . be on call 24/7 for girls in crisis pregnancies . . AND build a well with my own sweat and tears for a village BUT not get ANY credit for it because I didn’t do it out of love???

Something in me wants to become VERY indignant.  Something in me wants to protest, “That’s not fair!”  And something in me wants to fold my arms and glare up at God.

Do you know why?

Because it’s second-nature for me not to do things out of love.  Really, it’s first-nature.

I don’t have to try not to love someone.  It’s no work at all.  That doesn’t mean I naturally treat everyone like scum and abuse them.  It just means I can very easily (with or without thought) place my needs above theirs.

I can be discreet about my selfishness but still act selfishly.

I can pretend I care but really be faux listening in faux sympathy so that someone will say of me, Oh, that saint, she is so saintly.

I can carry on as though I’m encouraging someone for their own sake, when I’m really complimenting them so they’ll compliment me.

I can plan a generous act that looks like I’m trying to hide my benevolence just so someone will catch me at doing it.

I can gossip while looking as though I’m really actually concerned about someone (who isn’t, of course, present to the conversation).

I can even pretend to be very sweet while throwing out daggers.

I may not usually identify myself in the moment as acting without love, but when I look back, oh, I can see it.

How often do I really love somebody?

It’s a question that I feel God’s brought to my heart lately.  It’s something I guess I’ve often assumed I had a lot of.  After all, people usually say I’m sweet and kind and loving.  I guess that translated to me as really being those things.  But when I stop and assess my motives,

How often do I really love somebody, defining love as 1 Corinthians 13 does?

Not. Very. Often.

Diligent?  I can be diligent.  You want a bit of self-sacrifice?  I can muster it.  You demand loyalty?  I can sometimes come through for you.  Need zealousness?  You got it.  But ask me for love?

Why is it so hard to love?

I mean, it’s easy to love in the way Jesus talks about even unscrupulous people loving: loving friends and family who are nice to you (see Matthew 5:43-48).  Hey, we can all love like that.  But that’s not really love.  That’s more like what a dog feels for the owner who is secretly dubbed Mr. or Mrs. Treatsie.

Do you think that if you didn’t have treats to offer, and your next door neighbor did, your dog wouldn’t bury his collar in the backyard and jump the fence faster than you can say Lassie?  Why do we have fences and leashes, anyway?  Isn’t it because dogs aren’t really loyal?

You can train a dog to be loyal, in response to treats and conditioning, but that doesn’t mean your dog really wants to be loyal.  Here’s a simple test.  Sit in the living room on one end of the couch with no food, and have a random stranger off the street sit at the other end with a piece of steak.

Does Fido remember who gave him the bubbly bath last night, bought Greenies every week for him, paid the $800 for surgery on his broken leg instead of putting him to sleep, bought a trunk load of squeaky toys, and filled his bowl every morning and night faithfully for the last 5 years?

Test Fido with the steak, and you will see.

. . But we can’t really be hard on Fido.  After all, don’t we do the same?  I mean, does it matter how many times your husband changed the oil in your car, or your wife cooked you dinner, at the moment you’re having an argument?  Do you think back on those happy first dates during a conflict?  Do you say, Dear, you forgot to put your dirty socks in the laundry basket for the 9,000th time today, but I was just thinking about that time you bought me that beautiful bouquet of roses as a surprise.  Do you remember that?  Wasn’t that wonderful?

Our hearts are set on self-fulfillment, not on love.

To love with the hearts we have as sinners is like asking a snail to get his doctorate in biochemistry online in two semesters.

It’s not happening.  But if we know we believe in Christ, He can do what no amount of effort on our part can: He can take our old hearts away and give us new ones.

That doesn’t mean we immediately love perfectly when we become believers.  We have to learn how to use our new hearts.  But how do we learn?  Not from instinct.  Instinct will cause us to try to use our new hearts like we used our old ones.

The only way we can ever love is for Christ to teach us how to love with our new hearts.  We learn by listening to, obeying, and closely following Him.  He is the only one who can teach our new hearts to beat, and He is the only one who can inspire us to do anything out of a motive that is not gain nothing selfish.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3, NIV)

“a way that seems right”

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 16:25, ESV)

After church today, I was supposed to go out for pizza with a few of my friends.  I didn’t have my cell phone with me, so I asked for directions and figured I could get there myself.

That was a mistake.

I glanced at my GPS and thought I knew what I was doing.  I took a left turn on Lone Pine that seemed oh, so right.  I was so sure it was the correct turn.  I should have remembered that, in the Bible, the goats are on the left and the sheep are on the right.

As I traveled down the road, my GPS kept saying, WHEN POSSIBLE, MAKE A U-TURN.  I did not believe my GPS.  This looked oh so familiar.  I passed by the little ice cream shop, the veterinarian clinic, and the park.  I had been to each of them.  I knew where I was going.  I thought.

As time went by, and the road seemed to be parallel to an elevated highway, I began to wonder.  Was I really getting to Sunshine?  What was going on?  My GPS had said it was only 5 minutes away from my church.  But then, I hadn’t been going by what my GPS was saying since the left turn, so why start now?

I kept going, and sure enough, this was not looking right.  But I trusted myself.  (Why, I have no idea.  I have been known to get lost on my way to work, much less a pizza place I haven’t been to in at least a year.)

Then, startlingly, it looked at if the road was ending.  Ending?  Ending??  Lone Pine did not end!  How many times had I been on it as a child in the car with my family?  It must only look like it ends ahead, I thought.

Then, in what was a rather creepy moment even though it was the middle of the day, two things happened:

  • The road ahead clearly ended.
  • And the only place to go, other than the steel railing, was a graveyard.

I know it sounds like I probably made this up for point of illustration, but, really, I learned today that if you make a left turn off of Battlefield onto Lone Pine, you wind up either at a dead end or turning into a graveyard.  A graveyard.

Had I made a right off of Battlefield onto Lone Pine, the road would have intersected with Sunshine and I could have been at the pizza place at a table on the side of the pizza place with the glass roof edge and glass wall, where the sunlight streamed through.  I could have been looking over the menu by now.

But I was oh so not at the pizza place.  I had trusted my own instincts and ‘experience’ and pride rather than my GPS, and now I was at a graveyard.

I didn’t have to stay at the graveyard, and because God blesses me with gracious friends, they had waited for probably 20 minutes before ordering.  When I got there, I was able to sit with them at the table where the sunlight streamed through the roof’s edge and the wall, and I was able to order cheese pizza.  I got another chance.

In life, we can usually get more chances when we make wrong turns and make bad decisions.  Even after flunking a class, losing a job, wrecking a car, filing for bankruptcy, divorcing a spouse, or committing a crime, we usually get more chances. Even seniors in nursing homes and terminally ill patients and death-row prisoners can turn their life around.  Most of us get chance after chance after chance without even really realizing it.

But what we cannot get another chance at is life.

When we die, we do not get to come back and have another chance.

The idea of reincarnation is popular partly because there is no real accountability for anything.  Everything is fluid in the ‘karma’ world.  Even if you are the worst person on earth in one life, in five hundred lifetimes you might work your way up to being a hero.  Or, if you are a hero, in five hundred lifetimes you might lose ground until you’re the worst person on earth.

But God’s Word tells us that when we die, we do not get another chance.  There is no finding salvation after death.  There is no one more chance.

I drove the wrong way today and wound up at a graveyard.  I had started out so sure I was right, only to end up so sure I had been wrong.

If you have never asked Christ Jesus to save you, if you are not His child, why not?  Are you too proud to admit your need for a Savior?  Will you admit your need only when you have found yourself at the mouth of Hell?

We are saved through the work of Jesus Christ by faith.  Faith is not something that will be available after death.  We will see exactly how it really is, like the angels and demons do, and we will not have the ability to have faith anymore.

You can probably afford to make a wrong turn now and again here on earth.  But you cannot afford to make a wrong turn with your eternity.  Please, please, make sure that you are traveling the right direction.  You don’t want to end up in Hell instead of Heaven.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 16:25, ESV)

But here is what Scripture says “about God’s approval based on faith”.

Moses writes about receiving God’s approval by following his laws. He says, “The person who obeys laws will live because of the laws he obeys.” However, Scripture says about God’s approval which is based on faith, “Don’t ask yourself who will go up to heaven,” (that is, to bring Christ down). “Don’t ask who will go down into the depths,” (that is, to bring Christ back from the dead). However, what else does it say? “This message is near you. It’s in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the message of faith that we spread. If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. By believing you receive God’s approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.” There is no difference between Jews and Greeks. They all have the same Lord, who gives his riches to everyone who calls on him. So then, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:5-13)

If there is any good in existence, why does it have to have originated from God?

Good can’t originate with humanity because we were either created with good, in which case it didn’t originate with us, or we were evolved from ‘nothing’, in which case we can’t even be good, it’s all totally relative.

But we know there is good in the world, as even Sam from Middle-Earth knows :), and so we could not have evolved from ‘nothing’.  That means we must have been created with good.

(We could not have been created without good, because if we had been created without good, we could never do anything good.  Have you ever asked a plush dog to wake you up if there’s a robber?  We know it isn’t in a plush dog’s capabilities to wake us up.  In the same way, it wouldn’t be in our capabilities to be good if God didn’t create us with the ability.)

But then why are we able to do evil?  Did God create us with that ability too?  No.  God created us with the ability to do good and the ability to choose.  That ability to choose is not responsible for what we chose, anymore than a pile of cash is responsible for murdering someone.  If I choose to use a pile of cash to buy a gun and murder someone, I am responsible, not the cash.  I could just as easily have used that cash to fund meals for a starving child.

Satan used his ability to choose to turn from God and become evil.  Satan was created as Lucifer, an angel of light.  Now he is a devil of darkness.

We were created without shame or desire for evil.  But we used our choice to turn from God and become evil, too.  Now we are the children of the devil of darkness.  It’s a devastating picture.

But there is hope.  Because God is good.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

1 Corinthians 13:2, Part 2

 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV)

Would you like to be able to tell Mount Gibraltar to move to another continent?

That would get you plenty of media attention, but it wouldn’t impress God.

Would you like to able to heal the sick?  End a drought?  Part waters?

God knows why we want to do it–what our real motive is.

I saw the previews for a very blasphemous movie that came out to attack the power of God.  In the movie, a man was supposedly given God’s power and he could do whatever he wanted.  The ‘comedy’ was that he did ridiculous and sinful things.

It isn’t funny.

God’s power is not a gadget.  It is not a joke.  It is not a tool to get what you want out of life.  It is not given to impress your friends, elevate your status, get revenge for you, or fulfill your sinful desires.  God’s power reveals to the world His authority, righteousness, and love.  And, until Judgment Day, His power is always revealed on earth to draw people to Him.

Why did God have the flood swallow up the immoral world, have the sea swallow up the Egyptian army, have the land swallow up Korah, have the drought swallow up rain?  It wasn’t because He had to punish those people then and there.  Whether we are punished in this life or not, we will face the consequences for our actions–or the mercy of forgiveness through Christ Jesus!–on Judgement Day.  God didn’t have to punish anyone before Judgment Day.  So why did He?

To draw us to Him!  Every time God intercedes in a miraculous way, whether to bring immediate judgment, like the fire and sulfur raining down on Sodom and Gomorrah, or immediate grace, like manna falling from the sky to feed a hungry people, or immediate healing, like the man whose crippled hand became useful again, He does it so that we will seek Him!

Faith, in itself, is not saving, unless that faith is in Christ.  Once the anchor of faith in Christ is thrown, it lands in the ocean of His love.  We cannot be a part of Christ and not love, John is clear about that (see his letters).

Faith without love is destructive.  The terrorists who blow themselves and others up must have a strong faith to die for what they believe.  But that faith is not anchored in love, because God is love, and they do not know God.  Faith without God is one of the most dangerous things in the world.  I have a feeling that the demons had faith that Satan would be victorious when they betrayed their allegiance to God.  I would guess that Satan had faith that he could defeat God, then had faith that he could defeat the incarnate Christ, and now has faith that he can defeat God’s people.

Telling Mount Gibraltar to take a hike is an act that, if done without love, would please Satan, not God.  God works in this world for our good, not to show off His power.  And He wants us to use our faith for the good of others, not to try to flex our religious muscles to win a crowd.

On a last note, faith without love masquerading as Christianity can wound the faith of others or give them an excuse to turn them away from believing.  My father, in his illness with ALS and battle with dementia, decided to go to a “faith healer”–something he would never have done in his right state of mind and without the fear of death in front of him.  Faith healers who do not genuinely heal people but only fleece them for their money are not acting with Christ, but instead attacking the weakest of His and also confusing unbelievers.

No one in the Bible–not one–who ever did something miraculous asked money for it.  In fact, Peter found in abominable when a magician tried to pay him for the power of God (see Acts 8:9-24).  For more information on the deception of false faith masquerading to steal money from people who are very ill, see the classic book Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff.

Faith that can move mountains without love is faith that would be better not shown.

 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV)

1 Corinthians 13:2, Part 1

 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV)

I used to be a mystery TV/movie junkie.  I would watch show after show of someone getting murdered and someone trying to figure out who did it.  In most movies and shows, the directors try to trick you with all kinds of misleading clues, by who they feature as suspects, by camera angles, etc.

Even as a kid, I loved mysteries.  I had mystery books and mystery series: mysteries where girls solved the cases, where boys solved the cases, where dogs solved the mystery, and where mice–yes, even mice–solved the mystery.

What is it about mysteries that captures our attention?  Isn’t it our pride?

After all, we want to be the one to solve the mysteryAnd we want to solve it first, before anyone else does, including Aunt Doris who is the best mystery solver we know.  We want to have bragging rights that we figured the mystery out in a mere 5 minutes of the show, that we hadn’t even finished our first tub of popcorn at the theater before we knew ‘who done it’.

But . . you know what?

No one is going to stand before God on Judgment Day and proudly announce, “Do you remember that Nancy Drew mystery that none of my classmates could solve?  I figured it out after the first chapter.”

All right, you may say, I follow so far.  But then it gets harder.

No one is going to stand before God on Judgment Day and proudly announce that (s)he solved any mystery.

Did you figure out end-times eschatology?  It’s not going to impress God.

Did you invent a new rocket fuel and travel to Mars in 5 minutes?  God is not amazed.

Did you find a way for cars to run on soda pop instead of gasoline?  Nope, won’t impress God.

Did you come up with a cure for a disease?  You know what?  That, in itself, still won’t impress God.

What!?!  Why??

Because, if you didn’t do it for love, it doesn’t count to your credit.  If you found a cure so you could create a patent pharmaceutical and make millions, that doesn’t impress God.  If you found a cure so you could win the Nobel Peace Prize, that doesn’t impress God, either.

Knowledge is knowing.  It doesn’t say what you did with the knowledge, or why you did what you did.  It just says you knew.

Can knowledge help others?  Not in and of itself.  If you know a way to diffuse nuclear bombs from a thousand miles away, but you never share that knowledge–or if you use that knowledge for selfish ambition–you haven’t done anything majestic at all.  Knowledge, in and of itself, is not wow.

We put a high rank on knowing in this world.  We frame our diplomas, buy graduation rings, and call each other by titles based on what we “know”.  In some countries, knowledge is the focus of life.  In India, for example, such a high value is placed on knowledge that a high school student who fails his exam is at risk for committing suicide.

But do you know what?  Knowledge doesn’t say anything about the nature of who we are in our heart.

God has knowledge of good and evil, but He is only good.

Satan has knowledge of good and evil, but he is only evil.

Knowledge is what is in our mind, but it is our hearts that tell us what do with it.

 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, NIV)